About a month ago I saw a post on a local facebook group which was advertising a weekend course leading to the Foundation Amateur Radio Licence exam.
In my teens/early twenties, I used to do a lot of shortwave listening. It started with an old radio which I used to listen to shortwave broadcast stations at night - in the days when there were plenty of them around. I later moved on to a Lowe HF-225 which enabled me to listen to SSB transmissions as well.
When I moved to London I made more use of my scanner, on airband. I used to sit on my balcony and watch Concorde fly over while listening to the pilots talk to Heathrow approach.
I did investigate taking my amateur exam, but it seemed in the too difficult category back then. The lowest grade was the Novice exam and for someone who happily left physics behind at the age of 16, it was a little off-putting. Plus, the Novice licence didn't allow access to the HF bands, which seemed a little restricting to me.
Fast-forward to 2014 and here was this post… Places available on a two-day course. I looked up the Foundation licence and it appeared to be eminently achievable. It seemed as though fate was about to intervene to rekindle and extend my old hobby. I duly booked onto the course and a couple of weekends ago I headed off to the local radio club for my tuition. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, despite being a little nervous. It turned out there were only two students, so it was a very relaxed setting. I learned loads and, best of all, passed my practical tests and the exam, so am now the holder of a licence and an M6 call-sign. I am looking forward to exploring some of the myriad of avenues open to a licensed amateur.
I know that modern technology has taken over from a lot of the old amateur interests, but they are still out there. Phone signals go down in emergencies, phone batteries don't last long. Handheld radios do. Computers and the internet, whilst doing away with a lot of the old broadcast shortwave stations, have brought with them additional amateur interests and have extended others. My Dad used to hook the Lowe up to his computer and decode weather fax transmissions. I have weather apps. Times change. During the course, though, I watched data being picked up from amateur high-altitude balloons. Fascinating. Computers have added a lot of data modes to amateur radio, as well as things like Echolink, which I might investigate at some point. Amateurs now monitor, and use, satellites. They do moonbounce contacts. Oh, and someone built a space station and the astronauts on it use amateur radio to talk to people on earth. Imagine the thrill of speaking to an astronaut on the ISS! I will be listening in at least.
I have yet to speak to anyone, but then I only have a 2m/70cms cheapie (but very usable) Chinese radio. That said, last weekend a new repeater fired up pretty local to me. Excellent reception, so I have been listening in to some of the testing that has been done.
So much still to explore and learn; this is just the beginning of my adventures in amateur radio.