Foundations of Amateur Radio
How to find other Amateurs on Air
Where are all the Amateurs is a question that I am asked regularly by new entrants into our community. The journey most new amateurs go through and the one I followed starts with becoming interested, getting a license, buying a radio, setting it up and then turning on your radio. If you’re lucky you are at this point surrounded by other amateurs, hopefully in a club setting, or you have a friend nearby and you’re off and running.
The reality is likely that even after a successful first on-air adventure, you’ll be on your own in your shack asking yourself where everyone went.
I’ve talked in the past about picking the right day, for example, a Wednesday is likely to have less people on air than a Saturday, but that’s only part of the story.
One of the things that had never occurred to me until a while after I became an amateur is that listening is a really important way to find other amateurs.
Let’s start with some things that might not have occurred to you.
Most amateurs are not in your time-zone.
There is amateur radio activity almost all the time, 24/7 on whatever the appropriate band is.
Not all bands sound the same.
What worked yesterday might not work today.
This hobby isn’t exact or precise, that is, there are an infinite number of variables which each affect the experience either positively or negatively and even if you used your radio in exactly the same way with the same settings on the same band in the same location at the same time with the same antenna, the landscape around you has changed, the ionosphere is a lot like the ocean, flat and calm one day, storms and waves the next.
Those things aside, each of which could be a whole story is still only part of the story of finding other amateurs.
There is a tendency for new amateurs to think of frequencies as numbers, as parameters to add to your radio, pick 7.093 MHz, pick 21.250 MHz, or 28.500 MHz, they’re just numbers, things that you pick with your radio, set-up your antenna to and listen.
That’s part of the story, but there is another part.
If you think of light and you go from Infra-red through visible light through to Ultraviolet light and beyond, all you’re doing is changing a number, from somewhere around 300 GHz through to 3 PHz. It’s a long dial in amateur radio terms, but the difference is just a number, right?
It should be obvious that the human day-to-day experience of Infra-red and Ultraviolet are completely different. The 28.5 MHz 10m band frequency is on the same spectrum as both Infra-red and Ultraviolet but you don’t expect to see these frequencies or use them in the same way.
The same is true for amateur radio bands. The 80m band, the 40m band, 15m and 10m are all different. They’re in use by radio amateurs, but their experience is also completely different. Some are good for day-time communications, others for night-time, some work regardless of the solar-cycle, others need solar flux. Magnetic activity affects some bands more than others and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
If you have a hand-held radio and you’re used to listening to a local 2m repeater it’s likely that you’ve set up the squelch on your radio to hide noise and your day-to-day experience is one where there is silence when nobody is talking. You might tune to 15m and look for the same silence, only to learn later on
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