Amateur Radio for Those Who Don’t Know What It Is

Amateur (ham) radio operators are private individuals who build short wave, two-way radio stations that they use to communicate with each other, often over long distances. The modes of communications can be voice, digital typewriter modes, Morse code, television, etc. In order to operate, they must pass examinations on radio theory, obtain licenses, and be assigned call letters for their stations. Besides being a hobby, ham radio is also an important resource in emergencies, providing communications when other services have broken down.


I got into ham radio as a teenager. I was first licensed in 1948. My first call was W5PIG, in Seminole, Oklahoma. I let the call lapse in the 1950s, but took up the hobby again when I retired from my university professorship in 2004. My current call is W6ODJ and my license level is “extra class.” I operate on Morse code, digital, and voice modes.



I have two transceivers (transmitter and receiver integrated in one box), both made from kits sold by the Elecraft Corporation. The original one, now part of my battery-powered emergency rig, is an Elecraft K2 with an output of 10 watts. The current one is a K3 with 100 watts maximum output.

My home location in the center of urban San Francisco is surrounded by neighbors’ computers and other electronics, and is within two blocks of several restaurants with 50 inch plasma TV sets, all of which produce copious amounts of radio interference. Most of my operating is therefore done from my car, in a radio quiet location, using battery power and a portable antenna.

My primary antenna is a portable vertical half-wave dipole, off-center loaded and fed, that I call the
Tinkertoy Vertical. It has a tapped loading coil for band switching, and covers the 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12, and 10 meter amateur bands.