Studying for my HAM Radio Amateur diploma.

At the moment I am studying for my HAM Radio Amateur license. If everything goes well, I will have my first exam on October 22, 2011. So in a couple of weeks.
I don’t know a lot about electronics, so that part is hard for me to understand. Electronics is a completely new world for me. But that is not the hardest part.
I am a native dutch living in Spain, so I have two alternatives, either do the exam in Holland or in Spain. Both have their advantages and disadvantages:

Example of an electronics question in the dutch F license exam

Holland
In Holland there are still two types of license. A N(ovice) license and a F(ull) license.
The N license seems fairly easy to do. basically what you need to know is basic electronics, antenna theory, radio regulations and radio operation practice.
N license owners are allowed to work the 2m and 70cm bands and parts of the HF bands.
The F license is a lot harder. Basically you need to know A LOT of electronics. The organization managing the exams in Holland is the Union for Experimental Radio Investigation. Their objective is to promote radio experiments and therefor, to pass the F exam, you will have to be able to design and build a basic radio, diagnose a badly behaving transceiver, etc. Stuff like that.
The N license is comparable to the ARRL full license and gives you access to all bands assigned to HAM Radio.
These strict exams have caused that in Holland the amount of new HAMs is very low. Normally what you see in Holland is that N license owners work all bands. But this is still not according to the rules and therefor illegal.

Electronics question from the spanish exam

Spain
In Spain the situation is completely different. There is only one license and that license gives you access to all HAM bands. The exam for this license is comparable to the exam for the N license in Holland. So fairly simple. Since Spain is divided in 9 regions, passing the exam also requires that you know some spanish geography.

“So, “, you would say, “do the exam in Spain and that’s it!”. But it’s not exactly like this. As I said, I am dutch, my spanish is ok to get around, but I don’t know any technical Spanish at all. So, I don’t know electronics, I don’t know technical spanish, what are my chances to pass the exam? On the other side, electronics is Holland is so advanced, I would have to study for six years to understand that.

Final Remarks
Maybe i am in a particular situation here, being dutch and living in Spain. Although i don’t think so. There are many foreigners here. And if those foreigners want to become HAM Radio amateurs, they will run in to the same issues i explained here.

My question is the following:

  • If the HAM Radio are supposed to be the same all over the world, how come that in Holland the exams are so much more difficult than in Spain? 
  • How come that in Holland there are still two types of licenses, in the US three (Technical, General and Extra) and in Spain only one?
  • And last but not least: If the common language on the bands is english, why is it only possible to do the exams in the local language and not in english?

At the end I signed up for the exam in Spain. It’s a big challenge for me, but with studying a lot and being optimistic I will have to do it.
And I will! After October 22, 2011 I WILL finally be a licensed HAM Radio operator.

My “working conditions”

As i already explained in my previous post, I live in a small flat in a building block where I am not allowed to build large antennas. So let me describe my modest setup I have in my shack.
My “working conditions”.

The Radio

The radio is a standard Kenwood TS-480SAT. I’m a Kenwood fan, but for no particular reason. During the last cycle I owned a Kenwood TS-50 which I exchanged for a Kenwood TS-570D and I got to know these radios, I know more or less how they work and I like them. So the obvious choice for my next radio was the TS-480. It’s a fairly cheap radio and performs as good as many rigs that have a much higher price tag.

I never used Yaesus. I don’t like the audio of them when I tried one, but I assume that you can adjust the audio to your liking like any other rig.

I like the Icoms a lot because of the huge displays they provide. One of the things Kenwood could improve on is the fact that you cannot see any settings on the display. If you want to know what your filer settings are you have to go into menus. If you want to know your DSP settings, menus. If they show something at all it is if a function is switched on or off. NR is an example. You can see if NR is on or off, but you cannot see the level of NR you are applying.
The issue I have with Icoms is their price. They are way too expensive for what they provide as a radio.

If there will ever be a “next” radio it will probably be a Ten-Tec Orion. I hear good things about that radio. However, there are many things that have to improve on the rest of my setup before I can justify a better radio.

The antenna
I am using a Falcon Outback 2000 antenna. This antenna is meant to be for mobile use and covers all bands from 6 to 80m by connecting the base of the antenna to different predefined spots on the coil of the antena.

Now, this antenna has a maximum length of 1.85m. With an antenna this short in theory it is not easy to work the lower bands. However, although the antenna performs best on 10 and 12m (and on 11 which I still occasionally use, I do make contacts all over the world on 20m as well.

I cannot say that I’m the strongest station in pile-ups, but I can participate and by being just a little bit smarter than the majority of the other stations out there, and by tuning the audio of the radio so I produce a strong audio signal, i can get through pile-ups as well. Obviously, when big stations with a lot of power and good antennas are calling at the same time, I lose. But as I said, you don’t always have to be strong if you try to be smart. Sometimes I feel like David fighting the Goliaths of the air waves.

PC

For following the DX Cluster and for logging I use an old Dell laptop running Windows XP and Ham Radio DeLuxe.
I like HRD for it’s extensive range of features, it’s reasonably easy to use and it’s free. At least until now. Two weeks ago the developer of HRD sold the program so we will have to see what the future will bring regarding HRD. I ALWAYS use my PC when I am using the radio and at some point I will try to write an article what I use the PC for and why.