W5AC - Texas A&M Amateur Radio Club
This document answers more advanced questions, like a FAQ for
new but already-licensed hams.
- Why does everyone call me Roger?
- Etiquette - when on ham radio, do as hams do.
- What's a handie-talkie? What's a QSO?! (useful definitions)
- Where's the volume knob? And other radio inputs.
- What does "phone" have to do with repeaters?
- What are some different antenna types?
- What about tones?
- Why is the most popular ham radio mode 2 meter repeater operation?
- What is the scale for a signal report?
- Is there a reason so many "project boxes" are metal?
- Can one really convert a CB radio into a 10 meter ham radio?
- Can one really convert a computer modem into a 1200 baud TNC?
- Where is that interfering signal coming from?
- How do I stop the interference I'm hearing on campus in the 70 cm band?
- How can I show up on APRS maps on the internet (without actually transmitting)?
Back to Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why does everyone call me
"Roger" means the same as "QSL" or "I acknowledge receipt". It doesn't
mean you necessarily agree with what they said, but you heard it.
It's nice to say "Roger" to start off your sentence so they know you
Another nice thing to say is "Over" when you're done with your sentence
and ready for the other ham to start talking again. This is especially
helpful on simplex frequencies (where there's no repeater beep to act
as a "Roger") or on big linked repeater nets where many repeaters are
tied together, and they stay "open" a few seconds extra so the next
sentence doesn't get clipped off at the beginning. Either way, if you
don't indicate "Over", everyone listening will hear a whole lot of
nothing... every single time you end a sentence.
2. Etiquette -
when on ham radio, do as hams do.
Through experience, you'll pick up on the general practices used on the
but here's a head-start:
- Don't overstep the band plan. The ARRL and local amateurs
usually work out a plan for what frequencies are used for which modes - a "band plan".
This is usually more specific than the FCC-mandated ranges for amateur
bands. So, if the band plan says 144.39 MHz is the APRS frequency (packet
radio), don't try and speak FM voice on that frequency.
- Don't "kerchunk" the repeater (transmitting to make it ID
not giving your own callsign). Do listen to see if there is a
conversation or net in progress before you transmit on the
- Autopatch - before using, give your callsign and
to use the patch. Someone will probably let you know if a
net or conversation is in progress, if you give them a heads-up.
Don't try to use the patch if others are already talking.
As with all amateur radio transmissions, phone patch conversations take
place over the air. You may have to tell the person on the telephone to
conduct themselves accordingly.
Don't use the patch for frivolous uses like idle chit-chat, and
remember that amateur radio MAY NOT BE USED FOR BUSINESS PURPOSES. The
purpose of the patch
(and the repeater itself) is to pass information useful to amateur radio;
you can't just use it to get out of paying the telephone company.
As with all amateur radio transmissions, give your callsign when
are finished with the patch or ending your conversation (and every 10
minutes if the conversation goes longer than 10 minutes). The custom is
to say that you're clear from the patch, just like the custom of using
"monitoring" or "clear" explained in the definitions
3. What's a handie-talkie? What's a QSO?! (useful definitions)
Here are some useful definitions, ones you'll pick up from talking
to other hams.
- Handie-talkie (HT): a portable radio, with the classic "walkie-talkie"
look and relatively low output power
- QSO: one of many Q codes, this one means "a communication". Q codes
are abbreviations that make QSO's faster and easier,
especially while using Morse code.
- 73: "Best wishes", the standard way to end a conversation. For
example, "... 73, KD5SYI; this is W5AC, clear".
- APRS: Automatic Position Reporting System,
a popular implementation of packet radio used to transmit location
(like latitude/longitude data from a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit)
or short messages
- Base station: a transceiver radio designed for lots of features and
power but not so much for mobility, since it usually stays at the "base"
- Can: in amateur radio, a type of duplexer found on repeaters
- Clear: Ending a conversation with your callsign and "clear" means
you're not expecting to be on the radio anymore. (see Monitoring)
- Club: an optional part of an antenna (especially on an HT) that
changes what bands the radio can transmit on when it is attached
- CW: the mode where Morse code is used
- Digipeater (or "Digi"): a packet radio setup that listens on a simplex
frequency, and whenever it hears a packet, it retransmits that information
a moment later on the same frequency.
- Duplex: communication using a
"send" frequency and a "receive"
frequency, often using a repeater. This way, sending and receiving
can be simultaneous. (see Simplex).
- Duplexer: a device that connects two sources of RF at different
frequencies to a single antenna.
- Elmer: a ham acting as a mentor. Also a verb - "He Elmered the new
hams so they could learn such-and-such."
- EmComm: Emergency Communications.
- Eyeball QSO: face-to-face communication, no radio required
- Ground plane: part of an antenna installation that essentially sends
the RF energy up, rather than uselessly down into the ground. Often
required on vertical antennas to bring SWR down to
a usable level.
- "Health and Welfare" traffic: Comm traffic into a disaster area
regarding important but non-urgent health matters and/or meant to enhance
of disaster victims. Typically includes helping families make sure their
loved ones in the area are safe.
- Mobile rig: a transceiver radio designed for a car, usually with more
output power than an HT and requiring a plug-in microphone
- Monitoring: Ending a conversation with your callsign and "monitoring"
you're done with this conversation, but you'll keep listening to the
frequency if someone else starts talking. (see Clear)
- Project box: generic term for a little box housing some helpful little
device made as a personal project; popular among ham hobbyists; often
- QRM: one of many Q codes, this one means "manmade interference". A
"pileup" of many hams on one frequency can be considered QRM.
- QRN: "natural interference (static)"
- QRP: "low power", or the challenging mode of making QSO's using low
- QRT: "I will stop sending."
- QRZ?: "Who is calling me?"
- QSB: "Your signals are fading."
- QSK: "I can hear you between my signals; break in on my transmission."
- QSL: "I acknowledge receipt of the message". A QSL card can be
exchanged by hams to record a QSO - no two cards are quite the same, and
they're fun to collect.
- QTH: "Location".
- RF: Radio Frequency, in other words radio waves/energy/modes.
- Simplex: communication using the same frequency as the other ham,
which usually means no repeater. Only one person can transmit at a
time. (see Duplex).
- Standing Wave Ratio (SWR): measure of the impedance match between your
radio and antenna system. An SWR of 1:1 is perfect, 2:1 is pretty good,
5:1 or higher is bad. Ignore high SWR and you get two problems -
transmission is inefficient, so people can't receive your signal as well,
and the energy you lost to inefficiency is now funneled right back down
into your radio, physically heating it up until the radio breaks!
- TNC: Terminal Node Controller, takes digital data in and outputs to a
radio; used in packet radio. It's a modem for the radio.
- Wide-band FM (WFM): transmission mode used by
public-broadcast FM radio stations
- Working ___: Communicating with ___ (fill in the blank). "I am
working the repeater right now."
- XYL: abbreviation for "wife."
4. Where's the volume knob? And
other radio inputs.
Audio volume on many radios is labelled "AF", like audio frequency.
Here are some other hints to controlling your radio. For more
information, always read your radio's manual!
- "Tone" selects whether or not you want to encode a subaudible
tone, often required to use a repeater. Sometimes there are
both "encode" and "decode" or "squelch" options.
- "Offset", another repeater-related button, helps you set up duplex
operation - send on one frequency, receive on another. Repeaters almost
always have a standard offset in one direction or the other (higher or
- "ATT" or "Attenuate" limits the sensitivity of the receiver by
some number of decibels; useful when there are strong RF emissions
that are physically nearby or that are on a frequency close to what
you're using; when using the shack HF rigs, USE this to prevent KANM
transmissions from overloading the radio!
- "VFO/M" usually switches between the Variable Frequency Oscillator
(change frequencies up or down freely) and memorized frequencies stored in
memory locations of the radio.
- "Mic" lets you set the sensitivity of your microphone so you don't
sound muffled or otherwise distorted over the air.
- "RF PWR" or "Low" will let you vary how much power your radio is
into your antenna cabling. Don't use more than you need, but if you can't
be heard, maybe you should increase your power some.
- "Squelch" lets you ignore static but still hear people when they
transmit. The level of squelch decides how sensitive the radio is to
static, and what you can hear out the speaker.
5. What does "phone" have to do with
Most repeaters, like our 146.82
machine, are FM Phone mode repeaters. This refers to the use of a
Another type of repeater is a digipeater, or as we refer to ours, a "digi". These repeaters send and
receive packet radio "packets" of data. Interesting fact - due to the
small size of APRS packets, the digi doesn't need to be full-duplex
like a voice repeater. It can use 1 frequency instead of 2, and can
even modify the packets it re-transmits to take advantage of APRS
wide-area relaying features.
A telephone line comes into play with the "autopatch." Also
called a "phone patch," this allows an amateur radio operator using
the repeater to make a phonecall. The phone line is connected to the
repeater; therefore, don't expect to make a long-distance call. See
etiquette for more.
6. What are some different antenna types?
Here are several of the more popular styles:
- Vertical - basically a pole sticking straight up. They are
omnidirectional, meaning they transmit/receive equally well in all
directions. Magnet-mount verticals are often used on cars. HT's have a
built-in vertical antenna, and base stations often include a vertical
installed high on a pole or tower.
- Vertical (or horizontal) Beam - also called a Yagi antenna
- they are directional antennas (pointed in a
particular compass direction; usually parallel to the ground). You can
transmit/receive more power/gain in one direction, and less from other
directions, compared to omnidirectional antennas.
- they are made of one
long piece with many short pieces running
perpendicularly across the long piece (the short pieces point horizontally
or vertically depending on which type it is; a horizontal beam is a
vertical beam "on its side")
- Rule of Thumb - Horizontal for Single Sideband, Vertical for
If one party is mismatched from the other, i.e. the transmitter is
vertically polarized and the receiver is horizontally, the signal
strength drops by something like 20 decibels.
- Cross-polarized Beam - just like the
other kinds of beam but with an "X" pattern to the short pieces, making
it both vertically and horizontally polarized. Good for working
- "Barbecue Grill"
Dish, which looks like a mesh of wire formed in a curved shape, like
you could roast hot dogs on it. Used for really really high
frequencies, like 2 GHz, where the small size of the dish
is a significant fraction of the wavelength.
- Dipole, which is simply a pair of wires stretched out
from a "feed point", making it a simple, cheap, and reliable antenna.
It is somewhat directional.
- the G5RV - a special dipole
- Discone, which has a vertical element pointing up and a "cone" of elements pointing
about 60 degrees down from horizontal. Often used for scanning
- TVRO satellite dish, for Television
Receive Only. This is the old, large size dish, not the 18
Antenna design is a massive topic all by itself. Check out the ARRL books
on the subject, or search online and you'll find a wide variety of
7. What about tones?
When a ham talks about "tone," it is generally a reference to
subaudible tones. These are transmitted in the audio signal, but at low
audio frequencies around 100 or 200 Hertz (the lower the frequency, the
less likely to
bother listening hams).
Tones go by several names - CTCSS (Continuous Tone Coded Squelch
Systemn), the generic name; PL (Private Line), the trademarked name
of Motorola's tone system for business radios; QC (Quiet Channel), RCA's name for
it; and CG (Channel Guard), General Electric's name for it. They are
all the same idea - a subaudible tone transmitted with the voice.
Why would anyone do such a thing? The answer is to differentiate
between different users of the same frequency. The most common use for
subaudible tones in amateur radio is for repeater access. A repeater will
only allow a signal that includes the tone to be transmitted by that
repeater. Therefore, random, noisy signals won't activate the repeater;
neither will users of a distant repeater on the same frequency but with a
different tone. "Open" repeaters (open to use by any ham) usually use
tone just to keep out
noise. "Closed" repeaters can limit repeater use to certain members by
only letting members know the correct tone. The amateur operator is the
one encoding the tone into the transmission.
On the other hand, the operator might decode a tone, too. In this
case, the repeater encodes a tone; then whoever
wants to receive the signal from this repeater - and not a signal from
other repeaters - can set up "tone squelch" to ignore the frequency unless
the receiver hears that tone. This "tone decoding" can also be used
between multiple users of one simplex frequency, and as long as no one
transmits at exactly the same time, separate parties can each use the
frequency without bothering other parties.
Hint - if you have trouble transmitting into a repeater, and
sure you ought to be able to, check your tone encode/decode settings. If
you think you're encoding and decoding, try just encoding. This author
has made the mistake of assuming that his radio can do both at the same
time with different tones, when in fact it is an either encode/or
decode/not both on his radio.
8. Why is the most popular ham radio
mode 2 meter repeater
The entry-level ham license includes 2 meter privileges (including
building repeaters). The first radio transmission for many new hams is on
a local 2 meter repeater. The most inexpensive radios seem to be
handie-talkies on... 2 meters! Repeaters for this band seem to be
everywhere. The 2 meter band works well for local
communications and stays exciting when "tropo-ducting" conditions
allow for longer range QSO's.
9. What is the scale for a signal report?
Signal reports are often exchanged during HF QSO's. They are
given Readability of the audio followed by RF Signal
(optionally followed by decibels over the 9 rating), like: "Your signal report is 5 by 9 plus 20 decibels."
10. Is there a reason so many "project
boxes" are metal?
Besides being durable and common, metal as a
box-building material offers RF shielding. When you take your project
near a strong HF transmitter (like one finds during Field Day), RF may get
into the electronics of the project if the box doesn't have some sort of
shielding. A metal box has some inherent sheilding... induced current and
such will flow _around_ the project rather than in it.
Do they have to be metal? Nope! Whatever works.
11. Can one really convert a CB radio into a
10 meter ham radio?
Maybe, but it's a messy project probably not worth it. Among other
changes, you would
have to make many tiny adjustments to potentiometers and such within
12. Can one really convert a computer modem
into a 1200 baud TNC??
Maybe, but it's a messy project probably not worth it. Even if you
do get the hardware to "talk" the talk of 1200 baud AX.25 protocol, a
modem won't have the built-in software that a TNC does that, among other
things, correctly transmits your callsign.
13. Where is that interfering signal
One of the more frequent sources of interference on the 2 meter band is
part of a computer (a PC, a server, or something similar). You're
monitoring the local repeater as you go to start the computer, and when you hit the
computer power button, you hear noise on the radio. Or, you hear
noise on the radio as you pass a certain room each day. This is called a
"birdie", and though it's annoying, it is usually only noticeable when the
antenna is very close to the offending computer, and nothing else is
transmitting on the frequency.
14. How do I stop the interference I'm
hearing on campus in the 70 cm band?
There is a powerful 70 cm repeater on campus. Sometimes other
repeaters near that frequency become difficult to monitor, because
something "mixes" with the frequency of the powerful repeater and opens
the squelch of radios monitoring the other repeaters.
Most of the area
repeaters not only use CTCSS subaudible tones for
keying up the repeater,
they also encode a tone into the repeater's transmission, so radios can be
set to ignore signals that don't have that encoded tone (signals like
mixing interference or static). This is called "tone squelch".
Radios using this feature can scan through the repeater frequencies like
normal, but only stop to open the squelch if the signal is actually
coming from that repeater.
Attenuating the received signal helps, too. Many radios have "ATT"
buttons for this, and there are also other ways to "muffle" the
15. How can I show up on APRS maps on the internet
(without actually transmitting)?
There are a couple of different ways to do this. One way is inputting positions through
the popular findu website. Another is using APRS software, such as
(for Linux) or WinAPRS, MacAPRS, UIView, etc. to connect to the APRS
Internet servers. The latter way lets you choose what icon to display
at your position on the map.
More questions and answers coming in the future.