Those of you that follow me on twitter or identi.ca know that I’ve been working on my amateur radio license. This started a few weeks ago when Jacob got excited about radios, and must have infected me too.
I’ve been studying and learning a bit. I had called a local ham (amateur radio operator) I know from church. He gave me one of his apparently newer radios, a 1981 2m Icom IC-22U 10W unit. That was great and got me all the more interested. Then last Friday, a couple of local hams came over to check out that radio and see what repeaters I could hit with it. They discovered a handheld 5W unit could hit at least one local repeater, and this 10W unit could too. One of them also had an HF rig in his pickup, and it was fun to stand out in the driveway and listen to conversations in Michigan and Utah. That evening erased any doubt in my mind about whether or not I would become a ham — and it’s a bit hard to believe it was only a week ago.
I had been studying for the Technician-class amateur radio license, the lowest of three levels of licensing. One of the guys that came over Friday gave me a book to study for the General license, the intermediate level. It warned me to allow a month to prepare, and here I was planning to take the exams Tuesday. I picked it up Sunday, so really got 2 days of studying in.
Tuesday I drove to Independence, KS, about 2.5 hours away for the exams. I went so far primarily because the Wichita exams weren’t going to be offered until mid-August and I didn’t want to wait that long. I found a fun group of people in Independence. I hadn’t expected to have fun taking exams, but really, I did. We visited before the exams, and they wanted to know where I was from, of course.
When it was time to take the exams, I guess I sort of surprised them by already having my FRN (FCC registration number) and photo copies of my IDs with me. One of them said, “You’re going to have no trouble with this, are you?” I took the Technician exam, checked my work carefully, and turned it in to be graded. They checked it twice and had two people looking over it before they announced I passed with all 35 questions correct.
I should note at this point that I was the only person taking the exams that night.
Anyhow, on to the General exam. Same drill. It was harder, of course, and I turned it in to be graded. One of them looked at the test, looked at me, put on a grave face and said, “Uh oh, not one right.” I knew he was joking… and they announced I passed THAT one with 100% correct as well. I hadn’t expected that, and neither had they. That was what I planned to do, but they said that nobody had ever walked in, taken two tests, and had a score like that — and pretty much insisted I try taking the Amateur Extra exam as well. I said I haven’t studied for it at all and really doubt I could pass, but eventually went ahead and took that one too. I didn’t pass, but I don’t think they’d have wanted to let me leave without trying.
After the paperwork was done, they invited me to hang around and chat with their group that was meeting next door for a bit. I did, and drove home.
Then was the frustrating part of the week: waiting for my license. I can’t transmit until the FCC issues my license, even though I had passed the exam. My handheld radio arrived later in the week, and of course I still couldn’t do much with it. Finally the FCC posted my license late yesterday so I was able to talk to people. It’s been fun and I look forward to doing more. I was able to talk to people 55 miles away while driving, and with suitable equipment at home should be able to do much more than that.
Several of the people I talked to were offering me tips. I’ve never seen a group of people so eager to help out someone new. It’s an amazing community and I think Jacob and Oliver will enjoy it one day too.