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This short article will tell you how to go about getting involved in this magical technical hobby

Whether you have used no radio at all, operated CB, been a professional radio operator in the services, or just read about it, amateur radio can be for you. The hobby has many facets, technical design, construction, operation, or just for a social, it can be what you want.

Students on the courses run by The Mid Sussex Amateur Radio Society cover the age range from 10 to 80 and with a wide range of abilities (and disabilities as well), all have passed!

Many of the finest operators do not have full licences (more later) or, have they been on the air man and boy for 50 years, some have only just started. It all depends on what you want to do and how much time you want to spend doing it.

Getting started

Many people start as Short Wave Listeners, “SWL”s for short. Listening to the airwaves for interesting conversations, watching weather satellite maps appearing on the computer screen or listening to strange noises or Morse code (more later).

Anyone can do this, all you need is a radio with the world shortwave bands on it and a book or magazine with the frequencies, or channels, listed to help you on your way.

When you think you are ready to join in and start transmitting there are two ways to do it.

First is to buy a CB radio and just join in. Amateurs consider this to be a little restricting as you have only one band, limited channels, and can suffer considerable levels of interference. Or second, work for an amateur radio transmitting licence.

This entails taking in the first instance a short multi choice examination. Many radio clubs like ours run courses and help you get this first licence. It is called “The Foundation Licence” and allows you to transmit on the amateur bands with some restrictions.

You will be issued with a “callsign” unique to you in the world, currently in the series M7AAA to M7ZZZ.

Most courses consist of a two day weekend and culminate with the examination where you will be given the result within a few minutes. After applying for a licence you can be on the air within a week or so.

The course covers many subjects that are of interest to the newcomer and the old hands alike. A short session of using Morse code, the famous code of dots and dashes that most know of including S-O-S for emergency and the more recent mobile phone code S-M-S a text message has arrived for you. “Dot Dot Dot, Dash Dash, Dot Dot Dot”

You also get to operate a VHF short range radio and a long range HF short wave radio. Don’t worry we will explain what VHF and HF means!

Progressing on

Having passed the first exam, most people apply for a licence and start using the airwaves while they study for the second level exam.

Having a licence allows you to talk to like minded people all over the world, but especially those local to you who can, and usually will, help you learn your way about the hobby. It is not unusual to hear a “school class” being taken on some bands.

One of the best ways to enjoy the hobby is to join your local club, like ours. There you can attend technical lectures, join in with social activities, and use the club’s radio equipment.

The next level up is the Intermediate level, and is primarily designed to help you learn some of the technical “stuff” and let you actually construct a working circuit.

If you pass this intermediate exam you are allowed more on- air privileges and are permitted to build and modify all sorts of radio equipment for use on the air.

Finally you can, if you wish, progress to the “Full”, or Advance licence. This teaches you much of the theory of radio and allows you to teach others, run club stations and operate at sea and from most other countries of the world using maximum power!


So what to do first? Come along to the club on a club evening, or contact one of the officers in the contact us section. Buy and read one or more of the radio magazines on sale in newsagents or invest in a small radio and start listening to see what it is all about, then when you are ready, contact us to make a start. You will really enjoy this hobby for a lifetime.

My name is Chris and my call sign is G4ZCS, listen out for me sometime.

Chris Saunders G4ZCS

Getting Started

With digital modes you can work other amateur radio stations throughout the world with transmitter powers of 10 Watts or less using simple wire antennas.

WSPR map snapshot - 40m activity 23rd Feb 2016

You need an HF transceiver, antenna, computer and interface unit with suitable cables and software for your chosen mode(s). If you have a transceiver with a computer control interface, you may be able to connect it to the computer so that you can read and control the frequency directly. The interface unit serves to match the signal levels of the audio and isolate the Push to Talk (PTT) connection between the radio and the computer. If the transceiver has the Voice-Operated Switch (VOX) feature you may be able to use this instead of the PTT in which case you only need to connect the transmit and receive audio to the computer.


Digital Modes RTTY and PSK31

The digital modes RTTY and PSK31 are the easiest to begin with and enable you to have a QSO in plain language at a reasonable speed. RTTY has no error correction but PSK31 does, and can provide a good error free readout providing the signal is slightly above the noise level. For RTTY, start with the MMTTY software and check the AA5AU website which provides a lot of information on setting up the software. For PSK31 you can try MMVARI or DIGIPAN software.

The Fldigi software by W1HKJ incorporates RTTY, PSK31 and many other digital modes (except for the WSJT weak signal modes) and enables you to switch between modes quickly.

This software is installed on the MSARS computer in the radio shack.


Weak Signal Modes – WSJT, WSJT-X and WSPR

WSJT, WSJT-X and WSPR developed by Joe Taylor K1JT, are programs designed for weak-signal digital communications.

WSJT has digital protocols (JTMS, FSK441, ISCAT, JT6M, JT65 and JT4) optimized for Earth-Moon-Earth, Meteor Scatter, Ionospheric Scatter at VHF and UHF and also HF Skywave Propagation.

WSJT-X implements a new protocol JT9 optimized for the LF, MF and HF bands.

WSPR (Weak Signal Propagation Reporter) is designed for sending and receiving low power MF and HF signals to test propagation paths. WSPR Version 2.11 also includes a package ‘FMT’ which enables you to make accurate frequency measurements such as those used by participants in the ARRL Frequency Measuring Tests ‘Challenge’.

JT65-HF is a development of the WSJT program specifically for HF by Joe Large W6CQZ.

You need to use software such as ‘Dimension 4’ to synchronise your computer with an accurate clock so that the software decodes the messages accurately.

For most of these modes you are able to exchange signal report and callsign, not really a conversation by any means, but still a contact!


More Digital Modes

There are even more digital modes to try such as Olivia and FSQ once you have conquered the simpler modes if you want a challenge. There is also a software implementation of the HF digital voice algorithm called ‘FreeDV’. However, try the simpler modes first as they are more popular and you will find more stations on the air using them before experimenting with other more complex modes.


Sources and Suppliers

Radio to Computer Hardware Interface

ZLP Electronics: www.g4zlp.co.uk

Tigertronics SignaLink: www.tigertronics.com

G3LIV: www.g3liv.co.uk

Radioarena: radioarena.co.uk

WM2U: www.qsl.net/wm2u/interface.html

Signalink USB front panelTigertronics Signalink USB


Digital Mode Application Software

MMTTY and MMVARI: hamsoft.ca

DIGIPAN: www.digipan.net

FLDIGI: www.w1hkj.com

WSJT WSJT-X and WSPR: physics.princeton.edu/pulsar/K1JT/index.html

JT65-HF: sourceforge.net/projects/jt65-hf

Olivia: www.oliviamode.com/index.htm

FSQ by ZL1BPU: www.qsl.net/zl1bpu/MFSK/FSQweb.htm


PC Clock Synchronisation Software

Dimension 4: www.thinkman.com/dimension4

UK National Physics Laboratory: www.npl.co.uk/science-technology/time-frequency/products-and-services/time/time-synchronisation-of-computers-to-utc(npl)

Meinberg NTP: www.meinbergglobal.com/english/sw/ntp.htm



AA5AU Getting Started on RTTY: www.aa5au.com/rtty/getting-started-on-rtty

British Amateur Radio Teledata Group (BARTG): www.bartg.co.uk

ARRL: www.arrl.org/digital-data-modes

G4UCJ: hfradio.org.uk/html/digital_modes.html

WB8NUT: wb8nut.com/digital

Essex Ham: www.essexham.co.uk/how-to-get-started-with-data-modes

RTTY.COM: www.rtty.com/index.htm


Band plans and frequencies

RSGB: rsgb.org/main/operating/band-plans

HFLINK: http://hflink.com/bandplans



K7AGE PSK31 videos: www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8D7C6EBD6E2081E2


Further reading

RTTY/PSK31 for Radio Amateurs By Roger Cooke G3LDI

Get on the Air with HF Digital By Steve Ford WB8IMY

Work the World with JT65 and JT9 by Steve Ford WB8IMY


An introduction to Fox Hunting particularly for MSARS members.

Below are the instructions of a typical MSARS Fox Hunt (Please Note may well vary from Hunt to Hunt.)

As usual the start time from Cyprus Road car park will be at 7.30pm. First transmission from the Fox will be at 7.30pm. Thereafter each transmission will be every 15 minutes, i.e. 7.45, 8pm, 8.15pm, 8.30pm etc. Each transmission will be for a duration of 2 minutes.

Arrive at the car park in plenty of time to allow you to set up and be ready for the first transmission.

At the start you will have been given a sealed envelope which contains the name of the pub near to where the foxes lair is. On no account should the envelope be opened, unless you have been unable to find the fox and given up. In this case open the envelope, and you will find details of the name of the pub and where it is located.

For the hounds that have found the foxes lair, please hand in your sealed envelope to Mr Fox.

The transmissions will be on a frequency of 145.400MHz. If this frequency is in use, you will be given an alternative frequency.

Map, Compass, Ruler and pencil are useful when taking various bearings of Mr Fox’s transmissions. In most cases Ordnance Survey Map 198 will suffice.

Clues will be transmitted by the Fox at 8.45pm, 9pm, and 9.15pm.

You will of course, need a device that will receive the transmissions. This could be a portable VHF receiver or transceiver. The antenna could be a simple whip using your body to act as a reflector/shield. Alternatively, a more sophisticated directional antenna such as a HB9CV antenna could be employed.

Many different types of antenna have been used over the years, and some of the most primitive of antenna have helped in successfully finding the Fox.

As you get closer to the Fox the signal from him will generally get stronger, and direction finding might become a problem as his signal will be reflected off buildings and the like. This is where an Attenuator is very useful. A few of the club members have made these in the past. This would make a good club project for the new members.

Each car and its occupants will be treated as one hound. A friend is welcome to accompany a member providing they travel in the same vehicle.

Please note that the actual start time of a Fox Hunt, the duration of transmissions and the chosen frequency from the Fox may vary.

Full details of any particular hunt should be shown on the events page of this website.

Enjoy - Its great fun!

Tony G3XQM

HF Propagation Predictions - February 2016

Courtesy Chris G3YTU

Download as a .pdf file

Reduction of RFI for the Mobile User

Courtesy Phil M5BTB

Download as a .pdf file