Getting Started in Ham Hack Chat

Time to get your ham on

Wednesday, June 7, 2023 12:00 pm PDT Local time zone:
Hack Chat
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Mark Hughes and Beau Ambur will host the Hack Chat on Wednesday, June 7 at noon Pacific.

Time zones got you down? Try our handy time zone converter.


If you were to scratch any random hacker from the last 100 years, chances are pretty good you'd find an amateur radio operator underneath the surface. Radio is the first and foremost discipline where hacking was not only welcomed, but required. If you wanted to get on the air, you sat down with some coils of wire, a few random parts -- as often as not themselves homemade -- and a piece of an old breadboard, and you got to work. Build it yourself or do without, and when it broke down or you wanted to change bands or add features, that was all on you too.

Like everything else, amateur radio has changed dramatically over the decades, and rolling your own radio isn't exactly a prerequisite for entry into the ham radio club anymore. Cheap but capable handheld radios are available for a pittance, better quality radios are well within most people's budget, and commercially available antennas have reduced the need to dabble in that particular black art. The barrier to entry for amateur radio has never been lower; you don't even have to learn Morse anymore! So why haven't you gotten a license?

Whatever your reason for putting off joining the club of licensed amateur radio operators, we're going to do our best to change your mind. And to help us do that, we've asked Mark Hughes (KE6WOB) and Beau Ambur (K6EAU) to swing by the Chat and share their experiences with getting on the air. Both are relatively recent licensees, and they'll do their best to answer your questions on getting on the air for the first time, to get on your way to building that first radio.


Free KB6NU Getting Started in Ham Radio "No Nonsense Study Guide" from

Adobe Portable Document Format - 1.65 MB - 06/07/2023 at 03:22


  • Transcript 5

    Dan Maloney06/08/2023 at 16:53 0 comments

    hamsterdaveJun-7 1:24 PM
    Field day, 2 weeks, if you’re interested, go!

    zonker.harrisJun-7 1:24 PM
    Just a note that the U of Oregon has a ham club (N7DUX...)

    KevinJun-7 1:25 PM
    Mic shyness is a thing and it goes away over time. Don't let it put you off.

    hamsterdaveJun-7 1:25 PM
    if you’re in the Chattanooga area Devanooga will be hosting a station on Walden Ridge, details in the Devanooga slack

    xBeauJun-7 1:25 PM
    @zonker.harris I'm aiming to be in Portland for Field Day will be fun to connect with some stations near and far.

    Mark J HughesJun-7 1:25 PM
    Well, thank you to all who participated today! Beau and I were typing furiously, but without your help, we wouldn't have made it to the end!

    Mark J HughesJun-7 1:25 PM
    Go get a license, get on the air!

    kjansky1Jun-7 1:26 PM
    Need to get younger kids exposed to ham radio volunter to demonstrate i schools for STEM.

    KevinJun-7 1:26 PM
    Bouncing radio signals off the moon was also mentioned, and yes, people really do that.

    N.Y.Jun-7 1:27 PM
    Thanks for all the advice and resources. Cheers /waves

    kjansky1Jun-7 1:27 PM
    Some ham get into tracking space probes in orbit around the sun mars or the moon.

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 1:27 PM
    OK all, let's say thanks to Mark and Beau and call it a day. Thanks guys! And thanks to everyone who came out and made this a super-lively chat. Good luck to @Tom Nardi going through the transcript for his summary article on Friday ;-)

    xBeauJun-7 1:27 PM
    So as it goes, Be Excellent and get on the air, if you already have a license please use it and bring someone new on the air to try it out. If you are thinking about please stay curious and see where it takes you.

    BobJun-7 1:27 PM
    fun chat, thanks folks & 73

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 1:27 PM
    Transcript coming up, BTW

    KevinJun-7 1:27 PM
    When I helped out at a local amateur radio booth for a local fair I remember one father and son duo that came by. Both licensed. The boy was 5. :)

    Mark J HughesJun-7 1:28 PM
    Hope he uses GPT4!

    Mark J HughesJun-7 1:28 PM
    Thanks @Dan Maloney for inviting us here today!

    Kaushlesh C. ( KD9VFU )Jun-7 1:28 PM
    Thanks guy! 73

    Mark J HughesJun-7 1:28 PM
    73's de KE6WOB

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 1:28 PM
    Heresy! Hackaday content is 100% meatspace-generated

    Mark J HughesJun-7 1:28 PM
    I'll be clear on @xBeau final.

    KevinJun-7 1:28 PM
    We need a followed up to this chat so that those who were here can come back and tell us they went out and got their licence. :)

    KevinJun-7 1:29 PM
    73 de VE3SYB

    xBeauJun-7 1:29 PM
    And since those that know, probably didn't know to ask yet. 73 is the ubiquitous sign off in Amateur Radio, meaning I've got nothing else, end of communications and see ya!

    kjansky1Jun-7 1:29 PM
    73's & 88's

    KevinJun-7 1:29 PM
    for the QRP enthusiasts, 72. :)

    xBeauJun-7 1:30 PM
    @Kevin nice one, I look forward to the QRO crowd chiming on the 74

    KevinJun-7 1:30 PM
    @xBeau We won't start a flame war about whether it should or should not be pluralized.

    hamsterdaveJun-7 1:31 PM
    I would join a ham discord

    KevinJun-7 1:31 PM
    I need to go. I have some documentation I'm supposed to be writing.

    xBeauJun-7 1:31 PM
    for luls it's an interesting dive in to "Q" codes, which is the short hand derived from CW.

    And one more shout out, QSV which means shall I send a series of V's. There's a group of us HAMs that Hack which have take'n on the abbreviation for some of adventurs.

    ..._ ..._ ..._ ..._

    RicardoJun-7 1:32 PM
    Hi, I have joined a bit late. This is ea4gmz from Madrid, Spain.

    KevinJun-7 1:32 PM
    Also, Q codes aren't always need when using voice modes. It can often be easier to say what you want to say without the use of Q codes than with them.

    KevinJun-7 1:33 PM
    You're 59. Please repeat your last. ;)

    xBeauJun-7 1:33 PM
    Totally, plain English is the preferred trend, there's a bit of a local slang that becomes part of the vernacular.

    KevinJun-7 1:34 PM
    Good luck to those of you who are going to go for your iicence. It is a fun and interesting hobby.

  • Transcript 4

    Dan Maloney06/08/2023 at 16:52 0 comments

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:57 PM
    Are you in SoCal?

    hamsterdaveJun-7 12:57 PM
    Back in my day, we had to know CW at FIFTEEN words a minute to even look at a radio!

    fidJun-7 12:57 PM
    @Mark J Hughes You also don't need a calculator during the test session.

    K6FID in Northern California

    hamsterdaveJun-7 12:57 PM
    which, incidentally, is why I didn’t get general until 2005

    KevinJun-7 12:57 PM
    Getting together with other hams is also useful. Passing the test is just step one. Learning operating procedures, using the equipment is also a big part of it. The tests can't cover much as the hobby has so many options.

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 12:57 PM
    @Mark J Hughes -- Although I will say studying for the test taught me an awful lot. Passive learning, I guess. Plus I researched terms and concepts I heard about while practicing

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:58 PM
    @Andre Lewis GQRX is a good linux software for it. Or if you're really brave, you can play with GNURadio.

    Rikke RasmussenJun-7 12:58 PM
    To add to what @Mark J Hughes said:

    kjansky1Jun-7 12:58 PM
    Old novice CW requirement was only 5 WPM!

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:58 PM
    @hamsterdave I had to learn CW too!!!!

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:59 PM
    @Dan Maloney Oh, you should absolutely learn theory. I'm just saying don't let that be a barrier to getting licensed.

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:59 PM
    @Kevin you are absolutely correct.

    hamsterdaveJun-7 12:59 PM
    Yeah I agree, almost everything on the test is better learned once you’re on the air. Pro tip: actually learn the frequency limits while studying for the test though. A lot of modern radios don’t have band limits built in and you don’t want to wander out of the bands

    Mark J HughesJun-7 1:00 PM
    @kjansky1 I think Technician Plus (HF) was 5 WPM too.

    xBeauJun-7 1:00 PM
    @Rikke Rasmussen exactly, was just pulling up the link. You can take practice tests for all levels, and they are from the actual questions you'll see on the test. It will also walk you thru any questions you missed and the what/why of the question. I just took the Tech again and managed to pass with a 88% some of the wording gets a little tricky.

    kjansky1Jun-7 1:00 PM
    Anyone here doing moon bounce?

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 1:00 PM
    It's been an hour, and I could try to tap the brakes on this thing but I think it'll put me through the windshield, so to speak. We'll keep going as long as you want...

    Mark J HughesJun-7 1:00 PM
    Sounds good @Dan Maloney I've got some extra time.

    xBeauJun-7 1:00 PM
    @Dan Maloney I'm good to keep rolling a bit too

    hamsterdaveJun-7 1:00 PM
    Not long after getting General I was politely informed by a another ham that I was operating illegally by accident.

    fidJun-7 1:01 PM
    Thanks for a great HackChat. I have to hop off.

    Mark J HughesJun-7 1:01 PM
    Maybe we can spend a few minutes on targeted topics -- seems right now we're talking about passing the tests -- can anyone provide additional apps / study guides we can put in the official transcripts?

    Mark J HughesJun-7 1:01 PM
    73's @fid

    hamsterdaveJun-7 1:02 PM
    I was blowing smoke RE the 15wpm thing. It was for general when I started but I only had to do 5wpm when I got mine in '05

    xBeauJun-7 1:02 PM
    @kjansky1 I figured we would get around to that a bit, I haven't done it myself yet and getting more interested. Just met with some folks last night that are quite adept at it. A favored technique involved using 1296 MHz. To do EME, Earth Moon Earth communications.

    hamsterdaveJun-7 1:02 PM
    we needed some "old codger" vibes in here

    Mark J HughesJun-7 1:02 PM
    @hamsterdave Get off my lawn!

    Andre LewisJun-7 1:02 PM
    Thanks! Yes I have looked at gnuradio, but got bogged down in defining my own filters... which is to say I didn't get very far ;)

    Nicolas Tremblay left  the room.Jun-7 1:02 PM

    KevinJun-7 1:03 PM
    For any Canadians that may be here (or that are reading the transcript), you can take a look at the RAC website for study guides ->

    xBeauJun-7 1:03 PM
    GQRX is my go to for...

    Read more »

  • Transcript 3

    Dan Maloney06/08/2023 at 16:51 0 comments

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:28 PM
    Are there any questions we've missed?

    KevinJun-7 12:30 PM
    There are several organizations dedicated to QRP. Not sure if they are still around as I haven't checked in a while. There is (or was) G-QRP in the UK, and one based out of Michigan. Forget the name right now.

    mykeloveJun-7 12:30 PM
    Hello. Have Tech ticket. Found that 2m FM y area is cricket town. Does any one have baby step guide to digital?

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 12:31 PM
    @mykelove --I'll self-plug again:

    xBeauJun-7 12:31 PM
    QRP is cool, that's short for Low Power, general 5 watts or less output. There's a group here in the Bay Area that meets up Friday afternoons and uses the salty flats of the bay as a great ground plane to optimize the signal. They're often able to contact Japan with just a few watts

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 12:31 PM
    It documents at least some of my first steps into WSJT-X. Might help you out

    mykeloveJun-7 12:31 PM
    Thank you.

    pierre.poliakoff joined  the room.Jun-7 12:32 PM

    KevinJun-7 12:32 PM
    I've seen an article on how an RPi can be used for digital mode (WSJT?) using little more than a shirt piece of wire for the transmit antenna.

    Dr. CockroachJun-7 12:32 PM
    A ham radio station contest build would be great

    KevinJun-7 12:33 PM
    IIRC, G-QRP (or was it SPRAT) that said they try to have a minimum level of technical articles in each issue.

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:33 PM
    @mykelove Absolutely! So you'll need a way for your radio mic/speaker to connect to your computer speaker/mic and a way for the computer to control the radio. These things are called "Terminal Node Controllers" and the cheapest I'm aware of is the Digi-Rig.

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 12:34 PM
    @Kevin -- I did almost that -- used a Pi and an Si5351 module and made a WSPR beacon

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 12:34 PM


    The $50 Ham: A Simple WSPR Beacon

    I was having a chat recently with someone, and it surprised me that she had an amateur radio license. I suppose it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise; after all, getting a ham radio license is a pretty common rite of passage in the life of a hardware hacker.

    Read this on Hackaday

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 12:34 PM
    I hate to keep plugging my articles, but you know...

    Dr. CockroachJun-7 12:34 PM
    The Wee Willy is a great small circuit

    kjansky1Jun-7 12:35 PM
    Any thoughts about possible takeover of more ham bands for 5G use such as the 10 ghz microwave band?

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:35 PM
    @Dr. Cockroach -- you said an amateur radio contest would be cool. You need to check out Go Boxes. I absolutely agree!!!!

    fidJun-7 12:35 PM
    @Dan Maloney It is a good set of articles.

    xBeauJun-7 12:35 PM
    Going back to SDR, I really think that's a great way in with our without a license. You can start to find and listen to local traffic for less than $30 with a USB RTL-SDR dongle.

    Also even cheaper, in the online SDR's I think Kiwi is super handy and listen in from all over. You need to learn a few things on how to dial in what you want:

    Dr. CockroachJun-7 12:36 PM
    Will do

    mykeloveJun-7 12:36 PM
    Mark: Thanks to you too. Will that work on FM portable radio?

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:36 PM
    Nice job on the WSPR beacon @Dan Maloney !!!!

    KevinJun-7 12:37 PM
    Oh, Field Day is coming up soon. Find your local amateur radio club and drop by their field day site to meet other hams, see the activities going on, and possible get a little time on the air (under supervision from a licenced ham).

    xBeauJun-7 12:38 PM
    So related to WSPR, that has really pulled in me into some other interesting facets of HAM.

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:38 PM
    @mykelove Yes - you can even plug the digirig into a baofeng -- you lose the ability to control the radio frequency (have to change that manually) but it'll work with any radio really. Provided there's someone on the other end to communicate...

    Read more »

  • Transcript 2

    Dan Maloney06/08/2023 at 16:49 0 comments

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 12:09 PM
    @Norbert - in the US at least, there's a big chunk of the 6-meter band devoted to RC. Not sure if anyone uses that anymore though

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:09 PM
    @Dan Maloney There are study apps in the google play store and iPhone store. You can get the actual questions and actual answers as flashcards.

    Peabody1929Jun-7 12:09 PM
    Is it " know CW (Morse Code) requirement" or "no CW (Morse Code) requirement"?

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:09 PM
    Work a few a day.

    xBeauJun-7 12:10 PM
    @Kaushlesh Chandel great question, HF can cover extremely long distances, so you generally won't be making contacts with anyone local, although that is a thing as well, if you do a search for repeater [your area] 6m or 10m you'll likely get some hits.

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:10 PM
    @Peabody1929 no CW requirement in the US -- unsure about others.

    virgil.machineJun-7 12:10 PM
    Technician has privileges' on 10M and 6M, and you can do moon bounce, satellite, space station and other neat stuff--not as limited as many make it out to be

    rezsikderspam joined  the room.Jun-7 12:10 PM

    Norbert HeinzJun-7 12:11 PM
    Morse code should work for robot control as well in case it is not allowed here in Germany.

    Dan KB6NUJun-7 12:11 PM
    @Kaushlesh Chandel Just listen! If you don't already have an HF receiver, a software-defined receiver (SDR), like the SDRplay, is an inexpensive investment.

    rezsikderspamJun-7 12:11 PM
    Yeah guys I really don't have experience with hacking or anything but i do have the passwords of my cheating ex insta/snap/gmail/facebook and private pics/vids and she doesn't know that I have the passwords.

    And no im not going to try to ruin her life or anything because it's still someone i once loved. I was wondering if anyone who knows about this kind of stuff would be interested about talking with me what kind of harmless pranks can be pulled with having access to her accounts

    So if anyone wants to have a lil chat about it msg me, ill be happy to talk.

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:11 PM
    @hspil I was excited from a young age. I think I got my license when I was 15 or 16 (last century). This was before cell phones and my buddy and I could talk to each other. I also built all sorts of stuff -- inductors, capacitors, antennas. And got old gear at a yard sale. My poor parents had a giant Yagi and rotator mounted to their chimney.

    fidJun-7 12:12 PM
    I was surprised by how much a technician is allowed to do in the US.

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 12:12 PM
    Wrong place for that @rezsikderspam. Take it elsewhere

    Kaushlesh C. ( KD9VFU )Jun-7 12:12 PM
    @xBeau Thanks! I stand corrected. I meant to say... how do I find; that in my locality, what frequency is active, and people are making contacts on?

    xBeauJun-7 12:12 PM
    @Kaushlesh Chandel for "DX" long distance contacts, there's a cool thing called WSPR which gives you a lot of propagation info and idea of where you can get signals to and from on different bands. Beyond that it's learning how to read and follow space weather for more day to day variations and conditions.

    xBeauJun-7 12:12 PM
    I also like using WSPR reports

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 12:13 PM
    And... he's gone

    BigDanJun-7 12:13 PM
    Kaushlesh, have a look at, that's how I found my local repeaters. Now I listen with an SDR

    xBeauJun-7 12:13 PM
    @Kaushlesh Chandel I find the most active sources are generally club nets conducted on VHF & UHF frequencies, is there a particular band or type of communication that you want to focus on. It sounds like talking to people in your area?

    GregK joined  the room.Jun-7 12:13 PM

    Mark J HughesJun-7 12:13 PM
    Another great resources is RadioReference -- you can load all the frequencies of interest right into your scanner or radio. Makes using the radio so much faster.

    GregKJun-7 12:14 PM
    Can I get started with just an SDR?

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 12:14 PM
    Shameless plug for my "$50 Ham" series:

    Read more »

  • Transcript 1

    Dan Maloney06/08/2023 at 16:48 0 comments

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 10:52 AM
    Hi all -- Hack Chat coming up in about an hour:

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 10:53 AM


    Getting Started in Ham Hack Chat

    Mark Hughes and Beau Ambur will host the Hack Chat on Wednesday, June 7 at noon Pacific. Time zones got you down? Try our handy time zone converter. If you were to scratch any random hacker from the last 100 years, chances are pretty good you'd find an amateur radio operator underneath the surface.

    Read this on Hackaday

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:18 AM

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:18 AM
    Remind me @Dan Maloney What Comes before Part-B?

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 11:19 AM
    Ummm --- Part-A?

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:20 AM
    Woohoo! You heard it from Dan Maloney! Time to Party!

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:20 AM
    This is gonna be a fun hack-chat.

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 11:20 AM
    Fell for it. The shame...

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:21 AM
    BTW Dan -- we've got a Boondock Echo with your name on it sometime in the next few weeks.

    xBeauJun-7 11:24 AM
    Hey hey, looking forward to it. I'm definitely going to talk more about this is a study aid, and that PDF looks great as well. Was just taking a look at some Amateur Extra questions, great to see things have gotten modernized a bit and it's not a load of tube diagram questions. Going to try to blaze thru a practice test for tech and see how I'm holding up

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 11:24 AM
    Cool. As an aside, I'm doing a little field trip next week for an article about the SNOTEL network here in the West. Lots of remote telemetry stations to monitor snowpack levels, they use meteor bounce comms at about 40 MHz to hit a central office about 500 miles away in one bounce.

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:24 AM
    What? That's amazing Dan!

    xBeauJun-7 11:26 AM
    Oh that's a nifty one, will have to throw out some EME as well, and remembering to break down the acronyms, Earth Moon Earth (EME). I just learned the first amateur to astronaut space shuttle contact was done by someone super into EME and was able to use their massive yagi array to make the contact.

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 11:26 AM
    Yeah, looking forward to it. Just hope we don't run into any grizzlies

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:28 AM
    I remember in the 90's I read an old article about EME where they did it with relatively low power (probably still >100W), but used a hella-long integration time. Something like 3-5 characters per minute.

    BigDan joined  the room.Jun-7 11:28 AM

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 11:28 AM
    @XBeau -- I think I saw that in a documentary about hams. The dude was in Montana if I'm not mistaken

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:29 AM
    So Dan -- are you going to put on snow-shoes or cross-country ski up to the locations?

    Jan WeberJun-7 11:29 AM
    Hi folks! Got my license last september here in Germany and have not been on air since then unfortunately

    It's being on hold because I do not get around to begin antenna building :) I've got some *very special* (read: fucked-up) neighbours that will not like the presence of an antenna in their view

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:29 AM

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:29 AM
    Get Hackaday to spring for a helicopter.

    Dan MaloneyJun-7 11:29 AM


    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:29 AM
    My man's gotta ride in style.

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:30 AM
    Just maybe don't turn on the lights while you're using it as an antenna, or your life is going to become more exciting than you'd like it to be.

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:31 AM
    Hi @Jan Weber You can do a stealth antenna! Or mount one in your attic! not optimal, but doable.

    And for a long-wire, just pretend you're putting up holiday lights.

    Just maybe don't turn on the lights while you're using it as an antenna, or your life is going to become more exciting than you'd like it to be.

    traderman20 joined  the room.Jun-7 11:31 AM

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:33 AM
    Can you imagine the pileup trying to talk to the space shuttle?

    Mark J HughesJun-7 11:34 AM
    Man, I would...

    Read more »

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