Getting Your Amateur Radio License

Introduction and History

 

In order to use your DMX-40 transceiver in the transmit mode, you will need, at minimum, a Technician Class amateur radio license from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).

Back in the day, you might have to build your own transmitter.  If you were a very neat and tidy builder, and good with woodworking, you might have something like this. 

I grew up with this as ham radio.  I loved to connect up the “filaments” first, turn off the lights, and watch the tubes glow.  I dreamed of the day when they would invent tiny tubes to make things much smaller.  They did invent tiny tubes – they called them transistors, and they did NOT glow in the dark!  Well, OK, you could put tiny LED’s on the board… 🙂  

The other thing you don’t have to do anymore to get your license is to learn Morse Code.  Here his an antique Morse Code Key.  Originally, it was required for all Amateur Radio license levels, from Novice to Extra Class.  The only difference was… how fast was the code you have to be able to copy for each license level. 

Today, there is no longer a Novice class, requiring 5 words per minute of Morse Code.  Rather, there is the Technician Class, General Class, and Extra Class license levels, none require any Morse Code. 

When I first got my General Class license, I had to do 13 words per minute Morse Code.  I made so many mistakes, I was certain I had failed, but they let me pass.  I then tried some code on the air (with my dad prompting me – he was a whiz at Morse Code), but it was a horror show for me.  I would sweat blood trying to copy, and then trying to think while I was sending.  I ended up using AM (in those days, single sideband was barely a thing). 

Things Have Changed!

So here we are, in 2020, and things are a LOT different.  With Baofeng handheld transceivers at $25 to $35 on Amazon, it is very easy to get “on the air” with a Technician Class license.  But virtually impossible – until now – on the HF bands (160 meters to 10 meters).  There have been many attempts to remedy that problem – learning the code – but little success – until now! 

With the DMX-40, you can start learning the code while actually using it – at any speed.  You can’t help learn it, because as you watch the letters form on the LCD screen, you are also hearing the code being sent!  Your brain does the rest – after a few weeks, you will begin to recognize the code sequences, and you did not even have to try to memorize it!

You can also practice sending Morse Code using the KEY IN feature of the DMX-40.  When the transceiver is in receive mode, your key will be connected to the decoder, and you will be able to see if the decoder can understand what you are keying.  As it is a pretty forgiving decoder for human keying, if you are getting gibberish, so will other people trying to decode what you are sending…  But if you get the hang of dah-dit-dah on the key, then the decoder will show what you have sent, and display your speed, as well.

Getting a License 

There are a number of resources available online for getting your license.  The first step is choosing which license you plan to get. For most people, this will be the Technician Class license.

We strongly recommend taking time to familiarize yourself with the Amateur Radio Relay League website.  It offers a wide range of available resources and links to more resources.  (ARRL.org) .  One way to learn is to purchase the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual .  Here is a clip from the ARRL website regarding the Technician Class license: 

“The Technician class license is the entry-level license of choice for most new ham radio operators. To earn the Technician license requires passing one examination totaling 35 questions on radio theory, regulations and operating practices. The license gives access to all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 megahertz, allowing these licensees the ability to communicate locally and most often within North America. It also allows for some limited privileges on the HF (also called “short wave”) bands used for international communications.” 

Three Items from Quote…

1. 35 Questions:  The exam has 35 multiple choice questions, of which you need to get 26 correct.  That is about 75% correct.  So when you take the test, if you fail, take it again immediately (yes, they allow it).  You may very well pass on the second try.

2. Access to all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 MHz:  What does that mean?  It means you only have the ability to use what is known as UHF and VHF and even higher frequencies.  This is where the handheld transceivers usually operate.  The most popular band is 2 meters (144 MHz – 148 MHz).  You also have access to satellite communications, and other interesting formats, but this requires some additional equipment.

3. Limited Privileges on the HF bands:  This is the problem area:  you only have limited access, and only if you learn Morse Code! 

We have eliminated the Morse Code issue with the DMX-40, so you now can operate freely on the portion of the 40 meter band! 

One of the things you can do is look up in the club database on the ARRL website to see if there is an amateur radio club in your area.  Use this link: http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club.  Getting to know other “hams” is a great way to find out what resources are available locally.  Usually, clubs have classes to help you get your license, and also do the exams, as well, following a process dictated by the FCC. 

The cost for this process is usually something like $5, although the FCC has put out a new policy to charge $50 for a license.  That is being hotly debated, so time will tell.  The license is for a 10 year period, and at this point, renewal is free.  

Another approach is to learn the needed information to pass the FCC test online.  There are several websites for this, but my favorite is www.hamtestonline.com.  This is an interactive education system that will teach you everything you need to know, and will even tell you when you are ready to take the exam!  I used this system to get my Technician, General, and Extra Class licenses. 

Practice Makes Perfect

There are a lot of strange and interesting things on the 40 meter band, as well as other short wave bands that your DMX-40 transceiver can receive.  The DMX-40 can receive AM, SSB (Single Side Band) and of course CW (Continuous Wave, also known as Morse Code).  One station you should definitely tune in is WWV, at 10,000000 MHz exactly.  WWV is the atomic clock based time standard and frequency standard.  If you can receive it in your location, it is a great way to calibrate your digital variable frequency oscillator (VFO).  We have already done this at the factory, so no need to do it yourself, but after a few years, it will need a slight tuneup, if you want.  You have to learn how to “zero beat” with the station to be able to set your frequency correction factor so your VFO is exactly on frequency.  

While you are waiting to get your license, you can practice listening to stations on the frequency band used mostly for CW, which is 7.025 to 7.125 MHz.  This is the legal 100 KHz wide area your Technician Class license allows you to use, and assuming you have set your license level to Technician Class in the Local Station Setup (Main Menu), the green Enabled LED will be lit for these frequencies, enabling you – once licensed – to not only receive, but transmit on these frequencies.  Of course you can receive from 4.9 MHz to 10.2 MHz, which includes the 40 meter band (7.0 – 7.3 MHz) as well as many other shortwave bands. 

Some of the code you will decode looks like gibberish.  These are stations that are transmitting who knows what, but they are not the usual, and you can ignore them.  It is not your DMX-40 going crazy!  Tuning around and listening, and learning how to adjust the decoder gain, and how to determine if you are on the right sideband will prepare you for when your license arrives!

Be sure to tune in the ARRL code practice station, W1AW, at 7.0475 MHz.  If you can receive that station, you will be able to decode various speeds of code, as well as bulletins.  You can learn more at this link:  http://www.arrl.org/w1aw-operating-schedule.  

40 Meters Band and the Ionosphere 

Unlike walkie-talkies on UHF/VHF, which “always” work if there is another unit nearby or if there is a repeater within line of sight, HF radios such as the DMX-40 work at frequencies that carry much farther – when the band is “open.” 

You can tell when the band is not “open” or “closed.”  Tune around, and there is nothing but noise.  Band closed.  Depending on your antenna, your transmitted signal may be focused on the local area, the region, or long range, or all three.  But it all depends on the state of the ionosphere.  You will learn a little about this while preparing for the FCC test.  Essentially, the ionosphere reflects back your signal to the earth when it is in a state to do so, and this depends on time of day (the sun), sunspot cycles, weather, and other things.  Typically, the band opens in the afternoon, and usually stays open until evening or later.  But note, not for all areas.  That is to say, the band may be open for local, but not long distance, or vise versa.  Of course much also depends on your antenna:  is it focusing energy toward the horizon?  In this case, you are trying to reach long distance.  Or is it more an NVIS (Near Vertical Incident Skywave) design, where a large portion of the energy is aimed upward, to reflect back down in the local (several hundred miles radius)? 

By practicing receiving while you are working on your license exam preparations, you will be ready to go when your license arrives!  Once you are familiar with the operation of your DMX-40, and have practiced tuning around looking for stations, and ensured that they are on the correct sideband in case you were licensed and ready to transmit to them, this practice will be extremely valuable in giving you confidence when you finally get that license, enter your new call letters in Local Station Setup, and go on the air for the first time!