Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Vanity Call Sign

You use your FCC-assigned call sign whenever you use any amateur radio frequency which includes the local 2m repeater. The last two characters of my call sign were "PD". There is another active ham operator in the Fairbanks area who has the last two characters of "PB". These two were very hard to distinguish unless you use the NATO phonetic alphabet. Just about every time I've given my call sign, I get mistaken for the other person. The FCC has a program called "vanity callsign" so I went ahead and requested another call sign. The call signs are organized by location and license class and since I'm in Alaska (not very many people), I was able to choose from quite a list of unused call signs. Last night, an email from the FCC let me know that I was approved for AL6T. "AL" for "Amateur Extra" living in Alaska. I just looked at a list of unassigned call signs with that prefix and picked one that seemed easy to say and probably wouldn't get confused with something else.

While researching this process, I found it somewhat amusing that Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are all given unique prefixes but the rest of the country is all lumped together. I guess we're just special...

I'm especially intrigued by two aspects of amateur radio. One is all of the digital communication modes that work with very poor signal to noise ratios, ridiculously low bandwidth, and low power and the other, which surprised me, is CW i.e. Continuous Wave or morse code. Also very low bandwidth. When I was younger, we had a key that I played with similar to the one on the left. One of the reasons I finally took the amateur radio test is that they eliminated the Morse code requirement. But now that I don't have to learn, I'm interested. I signed up for an online course called CW Academy taught by volunteers and they require the newer style of paddle key such as the one pictured below.

The course won't begin until April and will be meeting twice a week using Skype. The paddle key requires a "keyer" as it sends out a continuous stream of dots or dashes depending on which paddle is being pushed. The rate is adjusted using the keyer. Just about every modern HF (high frequency) transceiver has a keyer built in. I'm now shopping around for a mobile HF transceiver and antennae. Mobile so that I would be able to easily use it either at home or on road trips. Until then, I'm watching YouTube practice videos and trying out a couple of iPhone apps to try and get a head start. After all, at my age learning something new is getting hard...

6 comments:

redlegsrides said...

Morse code eh? The only one I bothered to memorize is SOS. That new style paddle key seems complicated.

RichardM said...

I think the paddle keys are supposed to be easier to use long term and less likely to develop carpal tunnel problems. And the target for their training is 20 words per minute. Apparently that's challenging to do with a straight key. Not impossible but challenging.

Trobairitz said...

Can't we just give you a "handle" like they used to for CB radios? We could think of something really cool I am sure.

RichardM said...

You are required to use your call sign every ten minutes and at the end of a conversation. No “handles”.

Coop a.k.a. Coopdway said...

Richard,
If you need the old style key (Bakelite) let me know. :)

RichardM said...

Thank you. The class says I need to use one of the paddle devices. I found a kit version online that generates a sidetone. And uses pc boards as a touch interface for the paddles. We'll see how that works.