When I was younger my cousin Jake and I used to play with my uncle's CB late at night and see how far away we could make contacts. It wasn't until I was older that I realized there was an even bigger section of radio for this known as Amateur (Ham) Radio. I never knew much about it until I realized my friend Mouser had a ham license (KB1IKC). I started doing some research and found out you needed a license to operate from the FCC. In Oct 2006, I started studying for my first Amateur Radio license exam.
On Dec 11, 2006 I passed my Technician License test. I was given the call sign KC0ZCR from the FCC. This is the station ID I use when on the air. The Tech License gives you access to frequencies from 50Mhz on up (the VHF and UHF bands). This is good for short range (around 50 miles) communications. To talk across longer distances you need to use lower frequencies (the HF bands), which requires a license upgrade to the General License.
In 2020 I started studying for my General License and on July 11, 2020 I passed my General License test. Now that I finally have access to the HF bands, I can make much longer range communications, technically worldwide given the right equipment and conditions.
Every ham has different interests in the hobby, and there are many to choose from. My main interest is not much different than what it was when I was playing with my uncle's CB long ago. See how far out I can take a single to make a contact. This involves various personal challenges. One is to simply see how far I can get a signal (on any band of frequencies). Another is to see how far I can do it with the clearest signal possible ("S9", a strong signal). Lastly is to see how far I can do both of those on the lowest power output possible.
I am also interested in Skywarn. We tend to have a lot of severe weather here in the midwest with storms and I always thought it would be good to help out as a weather spotter. In 2008 I took the test to be a Skywarn spotter and passed. Each summer I report my local weather events when we are activated by the National Weather Service.
I'm a big fan of digital modes, mainly because I'm not much of a talker, but also since dealing with computers is in my line of work. I've been working several digital modes like FT8 and FT4, attempting to make contacts in every "grid square" which is the world map cut up into small squares. The goal is to make one contact with someone every square on the map.
Things I am not interested in are things like Echolink, repeaters, etc. While these are great tools to get a signal very far distances using minimal tools, the fact that they use a third party transceiver or the internet to do that work in some ways to me feels like cheating. I much prefer direct contact between two points, and all the challenges that come with that.
My first radio was an HT handheld radio, the ICOM IC-91A. It has 5w VHF/UHF output, dual band receive, as well as wide band receive. It also has a Diamond RH77CA BNC antenna on it (the 91A has an SMA to BNC adaptor on it), which is much better than the rubber duck antenna it comes with. This is my portable radio for local comms and listening for Skywarn reports.
Once I started using my car for storm spotting in Skywarn, I installed an ICOM IC-208H in my car (cataloged here). This is a 55w VHF/UHF radio with a detachable head. I mount the body of the radio in the trunk, run power to the car battery and route the remote head to the dash. I have a trunk lip mount for the antenna, and the antenna I'm using is a Comet SBB5 with an NMO mount.
For HF, I use an ICOM IC-703+. This a QRP (low power) rig with max 10w output. It's also highly portable, which is important to me in a rig. The 703 has a Collins Mechanical Filter in it (both CW and SSB) which really helps the receive sound quality. I also have the remote head cable, so I can detach the head and use it on its own away from the body of the rig.
My newest HF rig, the Elecraft KX2 will be the eventual replacement for my 703. It's an SDR QRP (12w) radio that is about a quarter of the size and weight of the 703, and packs in a lot more features. I've made detailed notes on its various settings and quirks I've found while using it.
For an HF antenna I use a SOTAbeams Band Hopper III. This is a multi-band (20m, 30m, 40m) inverted-V dipole antenna. I use a SOTABeams extending fiberglass pole (23ft) to get the antenna in the air. For digital I also use a SignaLink USB soundcard to send sound to/from my computer. I also use my computer to control my radio via a CI-V USB interface. I can quite easily fit my radio, antenna, pole, etc into a standard backpack for hiking and deploying anywhere.