If I were to summarize one aspect of amateur radio that unites all of my areas of interest in the hobby, it would be learning and achievement.  As many of you know, it was the technical aspects of the hobby that got me started in amateur radio at a young age.  I was fascinated with building things out of electronic components – particularly radio transmitters for the AM broadcast band.  That was in the days when vacuum tubes and terminal strips were a prominent part of consumer electronics.  This aspect of experimentation involved a lot of learning – and a sense of accomplishment when the circuit I built actually functioned.  As a teenager, I made equipment from Heathkit kits and even built my own 250-watt linear amplifier using salvaged television sweep tubes.  I currently do a lot of experimenting with Arduino computers and have made a couple circuits for station accessories that got published in ARRL journals.  With every new project I tackle, there is a lot of learning.

Another activity that I really like is foxhunting: finding people who are hiding with radio transmitters in what amounts to a high-tech game of hide and seek.  Doing this well requires developing a lot of skill (which I do not yet have).  Where do you take your first bearing?  How do you minimize the impact of reflections and multipath signals?  What is the best direction-finding equipment to use close-in vs. far away from the hidden transmitter?  When I first started foxhunting, my bearings were all over the map and I had trouble getting to the fox before the hunt closed.  Now I find myself getting to the fox first (or in the first wave of hunters) about half of the time.  Building this skill took a lot of learning – from trial and error.

My favorite operating activity is DXing.  I have had this fascination ever since I started in amateur radio 42 years ago.  There is something awesome about being able to talk to someone halfway across the world with the power of a 100 watt light bulb (or even less)!  My biggest goal for a long time was getting the DXCC (DX Century Club) award, which is issued once you have contacted 100 countries – with QSL or LOTW confirmation.  It seemed like such a distant goal until ca. 5 years ago I decided to try working the Palmyra DX-pedition (K5P).  Palmyra Atoll is a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  This entity was in the top ten on the most wanted list in 2016.  I figured if I could work them, I could work anyone.  They were operating on CW, and I could barely hear them.  Initially, there was a wall of stations calling them on the listening frequency range.  I could not get through.  A few days later, after learning how to use dual watch on my radio to figure out where they were listening, I was able to snag them on 15 meters.  Sure, I was using the legal limit (1500 watts), but my antenna was only a 40 meter dipole.  Five years later, I achieved DXCC challenge – for working 1000 band countries.  It’s essentially a stamp collecting exercise, but it also provides a sense of achievement and required a lot of learning re. propagation, station setup and operating practices.

Field Day is always a highlight for me.  I like camping, and this is an opportunity to merge amateur radio with the outdoors.  My first experience with Field Day involved a 2 meter SSB and CW station.  I bought a 13-element beam at a RASON auction, and the club let me put it on their tower at Pachaug forest for Field Day.  After ca. 2 hours fussing with the antenna to get it to work, I was on the air.  It involved a lot of patience and persistence, but I worked ca. 50 stations on 2 meters – as far south as Georgia.  I really admired a guest operator by the name of Dan (I forget his last name).  He could copy 40 wpm CW in his head, and he was the big point getter for RASON.  He inspired me to improve my CW skills, and I am able to run at ca. 20 WPM in Field Day (and much slower in a ragchew).  I spent a lot of time learning how to get better at contesting – building CW skills and operating skills.

I still have a lot to learn, and the fact that our hobby continuously evolves gives me the opportunity to do that.  Software defined radios are a new thing – offering a lot of flexibility, better performance and lower cost than conventional superhets.  They require learning new skills to use them effectively.  Satellite operating continues to be a challenge for me, and I am still learning how to cope with the Doppler effect on low Earth orbit satellites.  I still have much to learn on electronic theory – particularly with digital circuits – and programming.  All of these remaining challenges ensure I will not be bored with the hobby anytime soon.  What do you like most about amateur radio?  Whatever it is, I am sure learning will unite all of your different interests and pursuits.  Want to find out more?  Check out our new mentoring page – to learn from others or to sign up to teach others!  Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

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