16 January 2007

Madness - Part 1

The Virus called "HAM BUG" is very dangerous.

The fever spread very fast. The realisation that I was listening to individuals who could build, own, operate and maintain a radio station was something I had not heard of - or for that fact imagined. I decided then that - as the saying goes - I would give my right hand to become a HAM. That put me in a odd sort of situation as the the future incidents will show. But all that a little later.

Now for some more background. After the realisation that they were down to earth individuals and not some "high flying" - I mean Pilots (Capt. Anup Murthy - no insult meant to you) - people, I got really locked on to the frequency. This was on the shortwave - just around where we had good Hindi film songs coming from Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corp. (Does any one remember listening to this station these days?). So it was easier locating these conversations at the slight touch of the tuning knob - too much movement and I would be listening to something else.

While listening, I started getting details of the hobby in detail. I learnt that the operators were - a businessman from Rajapalayam (Nickname - "handle" in HAM jargon - Suri - VU2NPS), a retired professor of Science from Salem (Vasan - full name Srinivasan - VU2NS), a retired All India Radio Installation Engineer from Mysore (Muthanna - VU2MP - the first HAM I met in person - that is a story in itself), a BLIND electronics serviceman from a small village in Tamil Nadu (Chak - full name Chakravarthy - VU2TTC - more details about him at www.qsl.net/vu2msy/chak.htm), to name a few.

It was Chak, who I take as my first "guru". It was Chak who used to talk about all topics related to the operating procedures, principles and other general details. It was also the person who encouraged listeners to send our "reception reports" to him - he always gave his address at the end of his transmission session for the day. He also gave out tips on how to send out the reception reports. I immediately sent out a post card to him giving him the details of who he was contacting and what was being discussed along with the time of the transmission.

Two days later, as was his usual habit, at 2.30 PM, he started mentioning the names of all the listeners (fondly called SWLs - Short Wave Listeners) who had sent our reception reports. It was then that I got the thrill of my life. "CHAK" CALLED OUT MY NAME!!!!!

It was the first time other than from a regular broadcast station that my name was mentioned by a person in what was a "LIVE" transmission.

The "HAM BUG" had entered my blood. I was bitten for life. This was the beginning of my "Madness".

09 January 2007

What it took me to become a HAM operator

To break the monotony of the theory part of Amateur Radio, I was adviced by my mentors to change course and share my practical experiences on how I got involved in this hobby. Hence this and a few more posts will be different.

1981 our family bought our first radio cassette player - National Panasonic - ADS 543. More for the pleasure of listening to recorded music and to record music - my father having studied Sound Engineering. My inclination was more towards the radio. This was because my elder brother Dinakar was already a well entrenched Broadcast DXer (BC DXer - a term used in radio parlance to indicate a person who keeps his/her hand on the tuning knob of the radio - those days a valve radio - trying to listen to radio signals, identifying them, noting down the programme contents and sending a reception report to the radio station - a fairly long description for a very short term). Out of sibling jealousy/ competetion, I too wanted to get into that line of radio listening. I, of course, silently wanted to get all those knick-knacks that the radio stations sent out as mementos - stickers, pens, pins, flags, cards, etc., and have my own collection. With this in mind, I started listening to the radio at all hours of the day and at odd hours of the night. I, now rather meekly, feel guilty at not having spent similar hours at my studies. This went on for a couple of years.

In the meanwhile, I had bumped into certain radio signals where I could hear people involved in informal conversation - very unlike the one sided radio programmes of Radio stations. I convinced myself that they were pilots - I had no idea how pilots communicated for that matter. As it was an informal conversation - sometimes discussing matters of personal interest - general human tendency of listening to others conversation made me look out for these groups. Little did I realise what I had stumbled into.

Further events make me realise today that I was destined to be an Amateur Radio operator. I realised that what I was listening to was not Pilots having a chat while flying through an indirect episode.

In 1983, the State science promotion group, conducted a Rubik's cube competetion in Mysore for the first time (it later turned out to be the last time too!!). I had just then learned to solve the Cube. My friend and Rubik's cube guide convinced me that I too should take part in the competetion. It turned out to be the turning point or the entry point to my life as a Amateur Radio operator. Surprisingly I WON!!!

But what did it have to do with my becoming a HAM? Everything. The sponsors were publishing a Science Magazine in Kannada - the local language and as I had won the competetion, I was given a free subscription to their magazine. Being from a English Medium of education most of the Kannada terminology for science was a little too much for me. I had not bothered to even open the books for a few months.

Then came the crucial time - my destined time. One issue of the magazine, I did open! What do I see there? On one of the pages I see terms like VU2 GX, VU2TTC, VU2 NS, etc. I had heard that before - but where? During the conversations that I was listening to - convinced that they were airline pilots. The Title of the article - AMATEUR RADIO - written by (in later years) my good friend Girimaji - VU2GX.

It then dawned on me that I was actually into AMATEUR RADIO - HAM RADIO - and that I too could one day talk to others on the radio to be heard by the world.


01 January 2007

Fascinating World of HAM Radio - Part 2

What it takes to be a HAM.

Any person who is above the age of 12 years can aspire to be a HAM. In addition there are certain technical requirements before one can go on the air. The aspirant needs to undergo a written test conducted by the Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications, New Delhi. On successful completion of the test, an appropriate Licence is issued to own, maintain and operate a wireless radio station. The Licence is known as the Amateur Station Operator Licence (popularly called the “Ticket”)

The basic requirement to become a Radio Operator is that the individual needs to know the fundamentals of Electricity and Electronics. The level of the knowledge required as kept very simple and any one with a little effort can easily pickup the required subjects. Remember – the entry level age is just 12 years!!! Add a few topics related to the rules governing the use of the radio frequencies, operating procedures and record maintenance and you have yourself the Restricted Grade of operating Licence. Restricted in terms of the frequency range and the distance you can allow your signals to travel. It is plenty of fun and gives you a taste of the radio operation.

The next level allows you a greater are of coverage for your radio signals and more channels of the radio spectrum to use. It therefore means that the knowledge required and the proficiency needed will also be higher. For this level, a little more detail of the electrical and electronics theory is required. The topics related to the rules and regulations are basically the same. In addition, a degree of knowledge of the popular MORSE CODE is also essential. Taken as a new language, Morse code can be esily picked up within a couple of weeks. You prepare yourself for these and you are the proud possessor of a GRADE – 2 operating Licence. This level of licence allows you the luxury of operating on the Short wave frequencies with possibilities of communicating with the fellow operators on the other side of the globe!

Are you more proficient in Electronics and Electrical Theory? Can you cope with the higher levels of Morse Code? You still have to know about the rules and regulation. You can then opt for the next higher level of the Operating Licence – the GRADE – 1. This level of Licence allows you the benefits of having high-powered equipment with higher possibilities of voice communication with almost any part of globe. You can even have equipment capable of communicating with other operators using – SATELLITES. (Yes – there are satellites orbiting the globe dedicated to the use of HAM Radio Operators – More about Amateur Satellites in a later part).

Other than these three levels, there is one more level – ADVANCED GRADE - for the individuals with even higher levels of competency in the area of Electricity, Electronics and COMMUNICATION. Other criteria remains the same as in the case of GRADE – 1 operators.

In the next part I will be giving details of the operating frequencies and what exactly HAM operators do.

Keep those questions coming so that I can clarify your doubts.