Ham Radio - the hobby

KW3HD - the callsign I chose after obtaining my Amateur Radio license from the Federal Communications Commission. Originally licensed in 1988 as a novice (back when there were five levels and Morse Code was a requirement), I passed the test for Technician even before I received my initial ticket. When all was settled, I was N3GJG for over a decade, working with mobile and handheld radios, getting involved with the early Packet Radio bulletin boards in the coastal Georgia/Florida area while I served in the U.S. Navy.

When I moved away from Kings Bay I faded from the hobby, letting my license lapse after the turn of the century. So many changes and advancements in amateur radio since then, especially with the introduction of inexpensive radios from China coming to our shores. It is because of these, and an advertisement through Amazon, that I decided to get back into the hobby. I took a month, looked into the testing changes (no more code! yay!!), and studied to get back into the radio fun. I expected to take the first two (out of three) tests, so I would be able to get into the HF bands (which were only available to me to use Morse Code on before) and maybe set up to have fun talking around the world again. 

With the personal ham radio renaissance I was re-licensed in the summer of 2016 first as AB3ZN, but opted for the vanity callsign KW3HD. I could have gone even shorter, but have always like the style of these "two by two" callsigns. Since older calls started with K or W (such as my father's K3EJG, or Uncle Ray K3BRL), I wanted to do something to represent these roots I had in the hobby, and personalize it with my initials. Thus, KW3HD was created and authorized by the FCC last year.

So far, it's all been the portable and mobile FM transceivers - 2-meters and 70cm mostly, radios from Baofeng/BTech. I then picked up a quad-band radio built by TYT - getting me 10- and 6-meters along with the previous bands. Not much activity on those lower frequencies, so the radio sat for a while as I toyed with some new Tri-band radios from BTech - their new X-series handheld and mobile radio took over. 

But I still enjoyed the digital modes from before, and have a KISS-mode TNC to work with, along with the Linux laptop I've built/rebuild over the years. And, with the interest in the "older" digital modes (Packet and APRS), I've learned about the newer ones, including digital voice through DMR and Allstar.

TYT makes a couple of nice DMR radios, the MD-380 and MD-2017. The 380 is a single band, 440Mhz only handheld transceiver for DMR digital as well as normal analog FM. Solid and almost heavy, it is well built and fairly easy to program with the TYT software. There are a few differences than with the FM-only radios, which can be programmed with manufacturer provided software or the freeware "Chirp", but it doesn't take too long to determine just what Group IDs and Contacts are so these DMR radios can be set up. The difference between the 380 and the 2017 is the latter is a dual-band, 2m/70cm option, using a slightly different programming software than the 380 (but mostly because of the dual-band functionality). Neither was "break the bank" expensive, so were quickly added to the growing handheld stable. DMR repeaters do the hard work, are specialized just to receive and transmit the digital signals of DMR radios, but can hook up nationwide and worldwide.

Allstar is different than DMR, and requires a different setup. It uses regular FM radios then converts the analog audio signal to digital through the use of the Asterisk PBX software. Where DMR does the digitizing of the signal within the radio, Allstar receives that analog signal just like any normal FM repeater, then digitizes it through the software within a Node, then sends it to other nodes connected via the internet. The Node is typically made up of a Raspberry Pi or other small computer system, connected to a slightly modified handheld radio (a Baofeng 888 or UV-82 the usual options, but other radios can be used as well). When all is done, the node will fit inside a box about the size of a shoebox (or  even smaller), and can operate on battery or household power. The difference here from DMR is the equipment is more readily (and easily) obtained, less expensive, utilizes free, open-source software, and yet makes the same connections worldwide that DMR can make.

Next for me is to add more of the lower bands - from 6m down - as I look to get back into more of the digital world through the low bands and the various JT modes. I enjoyed the Packet networking in the past, and while APRS has taken over most of that style, there is not as much activity there anymore. The JT modes look to be a fair amount of fun, and others in the area are using them with much success. But first, an HF and/or 6m radio capable of SSB operation will have to be found, then the different plugs and audio adapters to go from radio to computer will need to be found or built.

Welcome back to the craziness - the fun, creative, sometimes noisy hobby.

.. 73 de KW3HD

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