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Friday, August 17, 2018

Part Three - Getting my Amateur (Ham) license and getting on the air.

Then it was on to Texas, where for the last 17 years I have been out of anything two- way radio related, except for cellular phones (which are technically radios). It became computers and interfacing an analog telephone system designed in 1968 into a system that would integrate seamlessly with IP technology. Along the way came “band aiding” new technologies (wireless phones, texting) to work with the 1968 technology.
So, I decided that since there was no longer a Morse code requirement for ham radio that I would get my license. Ham radio appealed to me, not only from my childhood experiences and my work experiences, but from the DIY part of it. I have always enjoyed building (or in some cases trying to build) things. Ham radio would allow me to build antennas, may be build some radios or other components, along with the ability to interface the radio to a computer. On top of all that my wife and I plan to drive to Alaska in our motor home and I wanted another layer of communication in case something went awry.
I did my research. I found on-line sites to take practice tests. I found on-line study materials. I read the study material and took practice tests until I had everything memorized. I was ready. Now it was finding a place to take the test. All the resources I found indicated that once a month an exam session was held at the local Red Cross. I also found something about the Lubbock Amateur Radio Club (LARC) that held tests the first Tuesday of every month. The LARC website was out of date so, I did not know if I could depend on that. I checked with some local folks who had been involved in the local amateur radio scene and they basically told me the same thing that I had already found.
So, on Tuesday, August 1, 2017 I showed up at the Lubbock Amateur Radio Club “clubhouse.” Inside I found several people, mostly my age with a few younger and a few older. As soon as I walked in, an older gentleman stuck out his hand and said that his name was George, but everybody called him Chief as that was the rank he held in the Navy. Chief later told me that he had retired from the Navy after many years of service. Another gentleman, Chris, looked up and said “you here to test?” At least I knew that I was in the right place on the right day. After filling out the paperwork, I was given the test and sent into a room with three or four other people that were also testing. I went through the test and managed to remember all the correct answers. I handed my test in and asked if it was in fact $15 and Chris replied that it was $5,000 dollars. Thankfully I knew that he was kidding, or I would have probably passed on right there. My test was scored and then passed around to several other people to review. Chris handed me the test and the scoring sheet and told me to take the papers over to the man in the red shirt with a white beard that they called “Santa Claus.” “Santa” reviewed that test and handed it back to me and directed me to another gentleman in the room, to have him review it also. I handed that gentleman the test and answer sheet and awkwardly walked away to sit at one of the tables. Conversations covered everything from antennas and radios to military experiences to family. The gentleman (Dennis) I had given my test to was with several others around a table talking, he looked up and in a very loud voice asked whose test he had?  I sheepishly said it was mine and he congratulated me for a perfect score and shook my hand. I joined LARC that day. I was unofficially an amateur (ham) radio licensee. Unofficially as the FCC had not granted the license, and I did not have a call-sign assigned. I sat in the room and listened to the conversations. About 7:45 a lot of the people got up and started to leave. I figured things were over and got up to leave and told to come back next week.
I went home and promptly ordered a Baofeng F8HP hand-held radio. After all, that is all I will need to work the repeaters in the local area. There were many on all frequencies. There were Echolink repeaters, IRLP (Internet Radio Linking Project) repeaters and base stations set to operate in multi-station mode. I would be set. I could travel the country and be able to program in local (to the area I was in) repeaters, then connect back to Lubbock through Echolink or IRPL, things would be grand.

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