Getting Licensed


I got my “ticket” in the late 2000’s. Starting with the Technician level I was brought into knowledge and interest via online forums and sites. I forget exactly what I was looking at or viewing, but something struck a chord.

There are currently three levels or tiers of licenses here in the U.S. – Technician, General, and Extra.

Technician allows you to get your feet wet in the core concepts but is mostly limited to VHF/UHF frequencies (above 30mHz). While there are some HF privileges, it primarily allows the operator to work local repeaters and simplex communications. With this level of licensing, you can work local and, well, not so local comms. You can work amateur radio satellites and even the International Space Station. When conditions are good, as a Technician you can jump on 6 meters and potentially work the world, or even a small portion of the 10 meter HF band.

I was first licensed as a Technician in 2009. After working local repeaters, I found myself really wanting more since most everything I read (that interested me) in the hobby was activities in the HF realm.

Time to upgrade.

In 2011, I upgraded to General. This is where (for me) amateur radio suddenly opened up. I want to first say that many hams live mostly in the VHF/UHF world quite happily and find the hobby fulfilling. That is the great thing about this hobby – there is no single way to do it. More privileges, however, allow you to try out as many options as possible and discover where your passion lies.

General Class opens up MF/HF bands of frequencies. This means expanded frequency blocks (bands) that run from as low as 137.7kHz up to 29.700mHz. While the upgraded privileges allow for greatly expanded sets of frequencies for the operator, it doesn’t cover everything. That is reserved for the highest class of license.

Extra Class is just that – extra. The full range of each band of frequencies is available to Extra Class holders, and that is where many of the prized contacts operate. By “prized contacts” I mean those rare contacts in areas of the globe that you might need for that particular pursuit. DXCC for example.

As a General Class holder, I sometimes will monitor the CW QSOs in these areas with envy – many more DX contacts are happening there than I hear in my portions of the bands. As such I am currently in the progress of studying for an upgrade that is long overdue.

How to Get Licensed

Each license level requires an exam that shows knowledge of operation rules and procedures, radio technologies, and being a good radio citizen. Exams must be taken in order; Technician (35 questions) -> General (35 questions) -> Extra (50 questions), though you can take all three at the same time. This means that you can walk in the room without any license at all and, assuming you’ve passed all three exams, walk out a fully licensed Extra Class operator. You cannot, however, take the Extra exam without having also taken the previous two levels.

Exam questions are randomized from large pools that are openly available for study prior to testing. These question pools contain at least 10 times the number of questions than are actually on the exam, so becoming knowledgeable about the full set is important before going in.

The ARRL has links to the current question pools, and publishes books that walk the reader through all the concepts needed in order to pass the first try.

If you’re nervous about getting licensed, the youngest licensed ham radio operator that I could find was 5 years old!

There are also multiple online resources, as well as many smartphone apps that provide practice opportunities as you’re preparing for the exam(s). One of my favorites is Hamstudy. They have both online and device apps so that you can study anywhere, any time.

Once you’re ready you can search your local area for exam locations and times. Those that administer the exams are volunteers and are also licensed hams.

They may change a small exam fee to cover their expenses.

Since COVID-19 hit, exams are now increasingly offered online as well, though you will have to meet the examiner’s requirements to prove that you are not cheating somehow. This often includes having two devices on the online meeting session to show different views of you taking the test so that your actions can be monitored.

Cheating in an amateur radio licensing exam is something that only hurts you – the questions and answers are available beforehand so there will be no surprises.

Study the material and you’ll pass! Take the practice exams again and again until you can pass them 100% of the time.

You will not have to wait to find out if you pass or not – once you’ve handed in your test it will be graded and you’ll know before you leave how you did. If you pass, the volunteer examiners will send your results to the FCC and they will issue a callsign to you if you’re new, or upgrade your privileges if you’re already licensed.

Once your new callsign shows up in the FCC database, you’re all set and you can get on the air.

Assuming you have a radio of course. 😉

TX-500 Firmware Update

Somehow I missed this, but Lab599 just posted a new update for the Discovery TX-500.

This update posted on September 21st provides some fixes and “Improved receiver parameters”. Combined with the update earlier this month that added a SWR monitor and two new audio output modes, it shows their commitment to providing additional value regularly.

You can grab the updated firmware here.

Nelson Antennas EFHW

I recently purchased an antenna on Ebay. The seller, Nelson Antennas, has several offerings available and based on a recommendation from someone in my CWOps Basic Course class, I purchased the UJM-EFHW-40-10 along with the 75/80 meter resonant kit.

The antenna is rated for 200w and from 10-40m (75/80 with the add-on as well), or more specifically for 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters in most installations. The seller does indicate that 12m is often usable depending on how you’ve installed it, with 30m and 17m usable with a tuner.

There are two things that I highly value from a seller (corporate, private, etc.); quality craftsmanship and good communication.

In this case I got both.

Overview and Construction

The antenna (40-10m portion) itself is 65 feet of 18 gauge marine wire, with a matchbox containing the unun and SO-239 connector. There is also an eyelet for various mounting options.

To my eye that looks to be a 49:1 unun

A short way up the wire from the matchbox is a loading coil, which then continues on towards where the add-on resonant kit is attached. That add-on kit adds another 6 feet or so of length. That is still about half the length of a full sized EFHW for 80m, and given my lack of backyard space, made this the best choice for my use.

The 75/80 meter coil is visible about halfway up this image.

Every antenna is some form of compromise, and there are multiple ways that compromises present themselves. From the construction of this antenna, quality is not an area where the seller compromised.

All metal parts are stainless steel. The wire is attached at various points using steel connections instead of nylon tie-wraps as I’ve seen from other vendors.

My phone really liked focusing on my fingers instead of the subject of the photo, but you “get the picture”. Ahem….I’ll show myself out.

The matchbox base is gray, and the cover is transparent allowing you to see the components. All solder points look solid and nothing moves or rattles.

This antenna just feels solid in the hand.


The below is a quick analysis showing what I got with one end about 25 feet up in a maple tree, with the feedline end hung at about 8 feet atop a post, resulting in a sloper deployment.

With the 75/80 resonator add-on attached, 3.5m is sitting about 1.4:1, with 40m, 20m, 15m, and 10m about the same or lower in SWR.

In addition, 17m has a fairly low SWR of 2.04:1, 12m is at 1.92:1, and 30m could certainly be tuned into something that would be usable (if not as efficient as a resonant antenna would be).

This afternoon as 20m was starting to become more usable, I quickly checked VOACAP via my Hamclock running on a RPI4 and ran a test using WSPR.

A nice big glazed doughnut surrounding me showing how I am likely to skip over adjacent states
See the doughnut?

It definitely performed as expected based on propagation predictions. All in all, 30 stations picked up the 100mW WSPR transmission at about 1pm Central (18:00 UTC) on this late September day in Minnesota.

I waited a few hours and retried the WSPR experiment above. Conditions had improved and at the same output of 100mW, I saw the following:

Similar to what I got before (VOACAP is still showing a doughnut around my QTH), but with the added bonuses of Spain (Islas Canarias off of Morocco) and Belgium.

And one more on 40m later in the afternoon

UPDATE 2021-09-2021

The day after posting this review I did a more “real world” test in between meetings as I work from home. Below is 20w on 20 meters at about 11:30am Central (16:30 UTC) on RBN.

I also made one quick contact on CW about an hour earlier than this, and had a nice QSO with N0ZB in Kansas.

Now I just need to log some contacts and stop playing with it. 😉


I made my purchase fairly late in the evening as I was lying in bed and on my phone. To my surprise, I quickly received a message from the seller asking if I’d like him to attach the 75/80m kit before shipping. I responded in the affirmative and the next day got a shipping notification.

How is that for fast service and good comms?


With over 10,000 reviews on Ebay and a 100% customer feedback rating (myself included), I feel highly confident in recommending this antenna to anyone looking for a shortened 80m capable antenna.

While I haven’t had the antenna in the air for very long, I have found it to capture less noise than my 5 band vertical, and blend into the neighborhood landscaping (trees) much easier as well.

Great quality and craftsmanship, and good comms.

I will definitely be looking at his online store again for future purchases.

cwops basic – update

I’m a few weeks into the CWOps Basic Course and, with some experience and time under my belt, felt it was time to post an update on how things are going.

First off, the course is not a traditional type of class. Students are expected (and rightly so I believe) to drive their own progress via daily practice routines that are laid out simply and in a highly consumable manner. (read: if I can follow it, you can too)

The focus starts on Instant Character Recognition (ICR), where in a half second or less your brain associates the character with the CW being received. This would be similar to someone holding up a card with a random letter or number on it and your brain instantly knowing which one it is visually. If you’re reading this, you’re already doing that with the alphabet and what you see on this screen.

There are tools and exercises along the way to train your brain to pick out the sounds quicker and quicker each week. More complex activities are then introduced as words and phrases are built out and expanded.

There are two sessions each week with an advisor, who provides guidance and inputs along the way. They assess each student’s progress at regular checkpoints, and will point out errors.

So how is it going?

Well, I am surprised (pleasantly so) how fast I am actually progressing. I started off my CW journey earlier this year doing a lot of repetitive learning of characters on my own, using apps like Morse Mania and listening to audio files developed by Morse Code Ninja (seriously give that guy a donation – his work is phenomenal). That gave me a solid foundation for the Basic Course that I’m in now. I’m seeing definite improvements in recognition of my problem characters that plagued me for weeks prior. I can follow QSOs more easily now, and my fear of getting on the air has lessened quite a bit. This at a little less than halfway through the course.

The group is fantastic. We all are progressing and struggling in different areas, but we take the time to work together via Discord video chats to push each other along.

I highly recommend this to anyone looking to learn or significantly improve their CW abilities. The coursework is well planned, the advisor has been amazing, and it is exactly what I needed.