So you just got your Technicians License and you are not sure what to do next? In this guide we hope get you started in the right direction. We will cover getting your first radio, programming that radio, finding repeaters in your area, software, digital modes, getting on nets, asking questions and more.
Your first radio
So you got your license and you are ready to talk on the air, but you need a radio. For your first radio don’t buy anything too expensive. Unless you already know that you want a particular radio for a digital mode, look at something like a Baofeng UV5R or a Baofeng BF-F8HP. In reality these radios are not good radios but they are very inexpensive. We recommend these radios only because of the price. If you get one of these radios and you decide ham radio is not for you then you are only out $30 or so.
Also, once you get into using the radio you might find that you want to get into one of the digital modes like DMR, D-Start or Fusion / Wires-X. A new radio that supports any of these modes can also support the analog modes that the Baofeng can do. So then you will have 2 radios that can operate in analog mode and you are only out $30 or o for the first radio.
Programming your radio
We hear this all the time… I need help programming this radio. There is a secret to easy programming of the radio. Use software. There is a free program called Chirp that can program many different brands and models of radios. All that is needed is a programming cable and many radios come with a programming cable. If your radio did not, you can purchase one on amazon very inexpensively.
When using a program like Chirp, you enter in the frequencies and repeater details in an excel spreadsheet type of interface. One line per frequency or repeater. Once you enter in all of the information you can then upload it to the radio. Because Chirp works with different radios, you can take that same like of frequencies and repeaters and upload it to another radio.
Some radios also have software that you can download from the manufactures website to program the radio. If you get a radio that does not work with Chirp and does not have downloadable software, RT Systems creates software for programming all kinds of radios.
Now that you have your radio you want to start talking with people, you need to find some local repeaters. One of the most popular sites for this is repeaterbook.com. Repeaterbook.com allows you to search by state, county, city, repeater type, etc. They also have a mobile app for iPhone and Android that you can use that will find the repeaters closest to your current location.
There is free software for your computer and your phone called Echolink that allow you to connect to participating repeaters and talk over the repeater without a radio. There are thousands of repeaters around the world that are connected to Echolink. So from your computer or phone you can connect to a repeater anywhere in the world and talk with other people in that area. Some repeaters will also allow you to connect your local repeater to another repeater somewhere in the world by using the keypad on your radio.
Get on a local Net
The best way to get comfortable talking on the radio is to just do it. One way that is a little more comfortable is by joining a local net. FARC has created just for new hams and we call it “The New Hams Net”. It is on Tuesday nights at 7:20 on our 2 Meter repeater 146.64- PL 156.7. There are 3 other local nets every week in the Frederick area. We have on our website a calendar of local nets that lists all of the nets. A few of them are digital nets on different digital technologies but the analog ones are also listed there.
There are many ways you can get connected with other amateur radio operators. Most local clubs have some sort of group communication system like Google Groups, Yahoo Groups, forums, etc. Get connected to one or more of them. There are also Facebook and Google+ groups for many different subjects around ham radio.
Hams like to eat and you are sure to find local groups that get together and eat. If you are in the Frederick area, FARG has a lunch and a breakfast once a month that are well attended. MADXRA also meets for breakfast twice a month.
Join a Club
Joining one or more local clubs is also a great way to get involved with local hams. This is also another great way to learn from other hams.
Join ARES or RACES
If you are interested in Emergency Communication and helping with communications for local events like bike races, hikes, marathons and more then joining ARES is a great way to get started. Joining ARES is very simple and is a very rewarding experience. If your local government supports RACES that is another emergency response organization that you can join.