Ham Radio Tip of the Day: Use WWV to check your rig’s calibration

There’s a very simple way to check the calibration of your rig, using WWV and a laptop computer running a digital modes program. First, connect the rig audio to the computer. At home, I connect the line output of my IC-746PRO to the mic input of my laptop. At WA2HOM, we use a SignaLink USB to connect the rig’s line output to our desktop computer.

Next, set your radio to one of the WWV frequencies. Here in Michigan, we receive WWV best on 10 MHz, so that’s the frequency that I use. On my IC-746PRO, I set the receive frequency to 10.000.00 MHz, using the keypad.

Now, fire up the digital modes program and observe the waterfall display on the laptop. WWV broadcasts standard frequency audio tones that alternate during most minutes of the hour. Most minutes feature a 500 Hz audio tone (minutes 4, 6, 12, 16, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42, 52, 54, 56, 58) or 600 Hz audio tone (minutes 1, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 31, 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 53, 55, 57), but note that during some minutes, there is no audio tone.

This tone should be easily discernible on the waterfall display, and the closer it is to 500 Hz or 600 Hz, depending on which tone is being broadcast, the closer your rig is to being properly calibrated. I do this every month or so, just to make sure that my radio hasn’t drifted.

For more information on the WWV transmissions, go to Information Transmitted by WWV and WWVH.

Tips like this one are sent out every day by e-mail. To subscribe to the list, simply click here and fill out the form. Every week, I’ll select a random subscriber and give them one of my books.

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21 Things makes Amateur Radio Newsline

My new book got a mention in the Amateur Radio Newsline portion of Ham Nation yesterday. Here’s what they said:


21 Things to Do After You Get Your Amateur Radio License is a new book by Daniel M Romanchik, KB6NU, that is now available for electronic reading on the Kindle and Nook. Written for the new ham or those amateurs who have not really been all that active late, its 21 chapters cover just about every aspect of the hobby as it is today. Included are such topics as how to locate an Elmer, how to buy a radio, set up a shack and much more. Also covered are the social aspects of the hobby including participation in clubs, hamfests and the like. The Kindle edition priced under three dollars is available from amazon.com.

It’s also available from Barnes&Noble, as well as here on my website.

Hot off the (digital) press: 21 Things to Do After You Get Your Amateur Radio License

21 Things21 Things to Do After You Get Your Amateur Radio License is now available for the Kindle (Amazon) and Nook (Barnes&Noble). Written for the new ham—or the ham that hasn’t really been all that active lately—its 21 chapters include:

  • Join a club
  • Join the ARRL
  • Find an Elmer
  • Buy a radio
  • Get on the air
  • Set up a shack
  • Buy some tools
  • Buy a digital multimeter (DMM)
  • Build an antenna
  • Build a kit
  • Go to a hamfest
  • Learn the lingo
  • Subscribe to mailing lists, blogs, and podcasts
  • Upgrade to General
  • Go to Field Day
  • Learn Morse Code
  • Get to know your (ham) neighbors
  • Buy QSL cards
  • Join SkyWarn, ARES, or RACES
  • Participate in a contest


21 Things to Do: Join the ARRL

21 Things to Do After Getting Your Amateur Radio LicenseIn addition to joining your local amateur radio club, you should also join the American Radio  Relay League (ARRL). The ARRL is that national association for radio amateurs and offers many services for amateur radio operators:

  • QST. QST is the ARRL’s monthly magazine. Every month, you’ll receive a magazine full of good information, projects, and news about amateur radio.
  • QST archive. In the past couple of years, the ARRL has digitized every issue of QST that they’ve ever published. It’s available on the ARRL website, but only to current members.
  • E-mail newsletters. In addition to QST, the ARRL publishes e-mail newsletters on a variety of topics, including:
  • The ARRL Letter is a weekly newsletter with news about amateur radio.
  • Contest Update is a bi-weekly newsletter for contest enthusiasts. I strongly suggest signing up for this newsletter, as it’s about much more than contesting.
  • The ARES E-Letter is for those amateur radio operators involved in public service and emergency communications.
  • Section and division newsletters from your section manager and division director.
  • Technical Information Service (TIS). As a member, you can call or e-mail ARRL Technical Information Service specialists for answers to technical and operating questions.
  • Legislative advocacy. The ARRL is the only group that effectively speaks for amateur radio with the FCC and Congress. Without this representation, our spectrum would be fair game whenever the political winds shift.
  • Outgoing QSL bureau. QSL bureaus help save postage when sending and receiving QSL cards from foreign stations. Only ARRL members can use the outgoing bureau.
  • Equipment insurance. Your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance may or may not cover your amateur radio equipment. This insurance program covers your amateur station, antennas and mobile equipment should they be damaged by lightning, theft, accident, fire, flood, tornado and other natural disasters.
  • There are lots of naysayers out there who will advise you to not to join the ARRL and tell you it’s a waste of money. I think that you should find out for yourself.  Join the ARRL and participate in some of its activities. After you’ve done that, you can make a better decision about whether membership is right for you or not.

    For more information on joining the ARRL, go to https://www.arrl.org/join-arrl-renew-membership/.

    21 Things to Do: Buy QSL cards

    21 Things to Do After Getting Your Amateur Radio LicenseOnce you start making contacts, other amateurs will want to swap QSL cards with you, even if you just talk to them on the local repeater. The purpose of a QSL card is to confirm that you had a contact with another amateur. For sure, you’ll want to have some cards printed up if you operate on the shortwave bands. Sometimes, amateur radio operators call swapping QSL cards “the final courtesy.”

    Once you get started swapping QSL cards, you may get hooked on QSLing, and it certainly can be an enjoyable part of the hobby. Many designs are distinctive, and they are fun to show off to friends and family. When I speak to groups about amateur radio, I always bring a selection of QSL cards that I’ve received. They can be very impressive.

    Another reason to collect QSL cards is that they’re often needed to qualify for awards and certificates. You can, for example, get the Worked All States Award from the ARRL by submitting a QSL card from a station that you contacted in each of the 50 states.

    Collecting QSLs can be fun, even if you don’t plan to apply for an award. I have, for example, started a small collection of QSL cards from stations whose callsigns spell words. I now have more than 150 such QSL cards including cards from W8HOG, WB4DAD, N4HAY, and KD8EGG. I agree that it’s kind of odd, but it’s fun, too.

    Where to get QSL cards
    There are many companies that print QSL cards. Here are some in no particular order, and with no endorsement implied:

    All of these companies offer stock designs, but can also print custom designs. I suggest starting out with one of the stock designs and then consider a custom design once you’ve run out of the first printing. Below is the card that we use for our club station, WA2HOM, at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.


    21 Things to Do: Buy a DMM

    21 Things to Do After Getting Your Amateur Radio LicenseA digital multimeter, or DMM for short, is the most basic piece of test equipment you can own, and every ham should have one. With a digital multimeter (DMM), you can make voltage, current, and resistance measurements. Some multimeters do even more, but that’s a topic for another book.

    Why do you need a multimeter? Well, the multimeter is the first thing you’ll reach for when you have problems with your equipment. For example, let’s say you go down to your shack, switch on your radio, and nothing. It doesn’t turn on. The first thing you should check in this case is that the power supply is supplying the proper input voltage. To do this, you pull out your DMM, set it to measure voltage, place the probes on the + and – outputs, and verify that the power supply is working.

    Klein DMM

    This multimeter costs about $50 and features a rugged case that helps prevent damage should you accidentally drop it.

    OK, now we’re sure that the power supply is working OK, but the radio still doesn’t power up. The next thing to check is the power cable from the supply to the radio. It’s possible that the cable has an open connection. To check that, you first disconnect the cable from the power supply and from the radio.

    This multimeter costs about $50 and features a rugged case that helps prevent damage should you accidentally drop it.Then, set your DMM to measure resistance. Set it on the lowest resistance scale. Connect one test probe to one end of the cable and the other test probe to the other end. The resistance you measure should be very low—less than 2 or 3 ohms. An open connection will register an infinite resistance.

    I think you get the picture. Without a DMM, you’re dead in the water. With a DMM, you can figure out what’s wrong and fix it.

    There are a wide range of DMMs available. On the low end, you’ll find DMMs at Harbor Freight for $5 or less. On the high end, you could spend $300 or more for a Fluke multimeter. I would advise against both. The $5 multimeters are not very well-made and can be inaccurate. They tend to quit working just when you need them.

    The $300 DMMs are great, but you needn’t spend that much. A DMM costing between $30 and $100 will do pretty much all you need to do at this point in your amateur radio adventure, and you can use the money you have left over for other things. You can buy them at any Lowe’s or Home Depot. Ask your friends or Elmer what kind of meter they own and whether or not they would recommend that you buy something similar.

    21 Things to Do: Join SkyWarn, ARES, or RACES

    21 Things to Do After Getting Your Amateur Radio LicenseOne of the principles upon which the amateur radio service is founded is that, when needed, amateur radio operators will provide public service and emergency communications. Part 97.1 (a) reads:

    Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

    Think of it as part of the price you pay for the privilege of being granted an amateur radio license.

    One way to get involved with public service and emergency communications is to join SkyWarn (http://www.skywarn.org). SkyWarn is a volunteer program run by the National Weather Service with more than 290,000 trained severe weather spotters. These volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service.

    Not all of these weather spotters are amateur radio operators, but a good many are, and using amateur radio is a great way to report severe weather. When severe weather is imminent, SkyWarn spotters are deployed in the areas where the severe weather is expected. A “net” is established on one of the local repeaters, and all of the SkyWarn spotters who have amateur radio licenses check into that net. The net control advises the spotters when they might expect to see severe weather, and the spotters, in turn, report conditions such as horizontal winds, large hail, rotating clouds, and even tornadoes.

    To become a SkyWarn spotter, you must take a class that teaches you the basics of severe weather, how to identify potential severe weather features, and how to report it. The classes are free and typically last about two hours.

    Another way to become involved in public service and emergency communications is to join an ARES/RACES group. Although technically these are two separate services—the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) is run by the ARRL, while Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (http://www.usraces.org/) is a function of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) —the amateur radio operators who typically take part in one also take part in the other.

    To participate in RACES, you’ll need to to take some self-study FEMA course in emergency preparedness and emergency-response protocols. Classes may or may not be required to participate in ARES. These requirements are set by each individual ARES group. To get involved with either ARES or RACES, ask your local club members when they meet. You can also contact the Section Manager or Emergency Coordinator for your ARRL section. To get in touch with those people, go to http://www.arrl.org/sections and find the section that you live in.

    If these formal organizations aren’t for you, you can still participate in public service activities  through your club. Our club, for example, provides communications for a bike tour with more than 1,000 riders and covering dozens of square miles. Our organization is a lot less formal than SkyWarn, ARES, or RACES, but the public service that we provide is just as valuable.

    21 Things to Do: Get on the air

    Once you’ve acquired a radio, the next step is to get on the air. You’re now an amateur radio operator, not an amateur radio listener.

    If your first radio is a VHF transceiver, the first thing to do is to find the repeaters in your area.  One way to do this is to use the K1IW Amateur Repeater and Broadcast Transmitters Database (http://rptr.amateur-radio.net/). Simply fill in the form, and it will give you a list of repeaters near you. When I asked for 2m repeaters within 10 miles of Ann Arbor, MI, I got the following list:

    Location Frequency PL (Hz) Callsign Sponsor
    Ann Arbor, MI 145.23 100.0 W8UM U of M ARC
    Ann Arbor, MI 146.96 100.0 W8PGW ARROW ARC
    Ypsilanti, MI 146.92 100.0 K8RUR I-94 ARC

    What this chart is telling me is that to communicate with other amateur radio operators using the W8UM repeater, I need to set the frequency of my transceiver to 145.23 MHz and enable the CTCSS tone and set that frequency to 100.0 Hz.

    Once you’ve set your transceiver up properly, you should first listen to see if other amateurs are currently using the repeater. If no one is using the repeater, you can try to start a contact with someone, by simply saying your callsign followed by “listening” or “monitoring.” For example, I would say, “KB6NU listening.” If another amateur radio operator is listening, and wants to talk to me, he or she will replay with his or her callsign, and then we’ll start our contact.

    If there are already operators using the repeater, listen to their conversation, noting how long they speak before letting the other operator take a turn, how often they identify, and even what they are talking about. If you don’t think that they would mind if you joined their conversation, say your callsign immediately after one of them has stopped transmitting. They’ll break for you and let you join the conversation.

    It really is just that easy. Most hams are welcoming and great people to talk to. By getting on the air frequently, you’ll get to know a lot of great people and have many interesting conversations. Sure, you’ll run into the occasional grouch, but don’t let them ruin your enjoyment of amateur radio.

    Operating on the shortwave, of HF, bands is a little different than operating on the VHF bands. A complete description of those differences is beyond the scope of this book, but you’ll find a lot of good information in the The ARRL Operating Manual for Radio Amateurs (see below).

    The basic principles apply, though. Listen first to see if there are other amateur radio operators on the air that you can contact, and if not, give out a call inviting other operators to contact you. Then, once you have established contact, have an interesting contact with the other radio amateur.

    Over the years, I’ve met many amateurs who studied hard to get their license, but then didn’t get on the air for months, or even years. Don’t let that happen to you. Amateur radio is a contact sport. Get a radio and get on the air!


    21 Things to Do: Find an Elmer

    21 Things to Do After Getting Your Amateur Radio LicenseAmateur radio can be a complicated hobby. You will, undoubtedly, have questions about the technology, questions about the rules, and questions about operating procedures. An “Elmer” is someone who can help answer those questions and help you avoid some of the pitfalls of the hobby. He or she is a ham that you can go to when you have a question about what rig to buy, when you want to borrow an antenna analyzer, or when you’re having trouble understanding a particular concept. If you haven’t already, you might want to find an Elmer.

    The term Elmer first appeared in the March 1971 issue of QST magazine. In that issue, Rod Newkirk, W9BRD, called them “the unsung fathers of Amateur Radio.” He wrote that an Elmer is “the ham who took the most time and trouble to give you a push toward your license.”

    Where do you find an Elmer? Well, the first place you might look is the club you just joined. Lots of the “old timers” there are more than happy to help newcomers, and many clubs have “Elmer” programs. Ask for help and ye just may receive.

    Nowadays, you might find your Elmer online. There are lots of websites and mailing lists that are geared towards helping people become better amateur radio operators. One mailing list that I am a member of is the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HamRadioHelpGroup/).

    You probably can get by without an Elmer, but without one, it’s easy to become frustrated and set aside the hobby. One ham I spoke with said, “I did not have an Elmer. I got my license, and within a year, I started a 20 year hiatus. I blame that on not having an Elmer.”

    You don’t want that to happen to you. Find an Elmer and take his or her advice. You’ll get a lot more out of the hobby.

    21 Things to Do: Get to know your ham neighbors

    Jukka, OH2BR, gave me this bit of advice. “Find out who your closest ham neighbors are,” he said, “and contact them.” “They could be your best friends and Elmers OR your worst opposition if you interference to their ham activities. Start early—contact them today!” He went on to tell this story:

    I found out how important it is to acquaint myself with my neighbor hams the hard way.  I built a 15W XTAL TX and started working the world. One day I got a note from the President of our national league SRAL (Finland), OH2TK. He lived one block away from me. Was I terrified! I thought I would be expelled from the League for causing interference with my poorly constructed TX. Happily, he was a most amiable person and took me under his wing, so there was a happy end to the story.

    Today, there are many ways to find the hams in your neighborhood. One way to do this is to do it the old-fashioned way—walk around your neighborhood looking for antennas.

    Another way to do this is to visit QRZ.Com. Most of us use QRZ.Com to search for particular amateur by typing his or her callsign into the search box. You can, however, get a list of  ham radio operators in your zip code by typing that into the search box. When I typed “48103” into the search box, it returned 150 licensees.

    Perhaps an even better way to do this is with N4MC’s Ham Locator. When you type you zip code into the appropriate box on this Web page, you get a Google map that shows where the hams are located. You can then zoom in and pan around to find the hams closest to you.

    Here’s a map of my neighborhood. Clicking on the little markers gives you the name and address of each licensee.

     Ham Locator Map

    So, find the hams in your neighborhood and get to know them. You never know. You might make a friend for life.