How to Listen Into Amateur Radio Forums Without a Ham License
Some of the best information about becoming an NET amateur radio operator is shared on amateur radio nets. But how do you listen in if you do not have a license? It seems like a conundrum, but it’s actually easy. You have several options.
You can buy a $25 Baofeng UV-5R handheld amateur radio. Although made in China, you can find this radio on Amazon, eBay, and a number of other online merchant sites. You do not need to be a licensed operator to buy a ham radio or to listen. After you get the battery charged and the antenna screwed on, turn it on. A voice in radio will announce either “Frequency Mode” or “Channel Mode.” If the radio is in Channel Mode, you need press the conspicuous orange button on the front of the radio, marked VFO/MR, to toggle it into Frequency Mode. Then press the keys on the front of the radio to enter the frequency. For example, to listen in on 147.040 MHz, press the following keys on the keypad: 1,4,7,0,4,0 one at a time. That’s it! You are now able to listen to the NET net.
Of course, you cannot hit that push-to-talk (PTT) button on the side until you get your FCC amateur radio license, but you can listen in as much as you wish! Even if you did hit the PTT button, however, you could not talk to us. I have not given you enough instruction here to make the HT to “light up” the repeater we use. When you take your PBEM NET ARO training, we will make sure you can do that and a lot more.
The radio has a number of attractive features, besides the price. You can fully participate in NET ARO events and other amateur radio nets. Transmission and reception audio quality are excellent. They are legal on the BEECN frequencies, with permission from PBEM. They have weather and FM broadcast (EAS) receive capability. In an emergency, they will transmit as well as receive on FRS/GMRS frequencies, including GMRS repeater frequencies.
The Baofeng is not for everyone, however. In particular, if you live within about five miles of the West Hills, strong signals from the commercial transmitters on top of that ridge may impair the radios ability to receive weak amateur signals. Radio folks call this de-sense. Also, get some help before trying to program one of these little guys. (Programming consists of putting frequency and mode data into the radio’s channel memory storage.) Better still, have someone program your radio with free Chirp software, using a special cable. When you are ready to manually program the radio, be sure to use a well-vetted reference, such as the NET ARO Cheat Sheet. Do not rely on the manual that comes with the radio. If you would rather buy a radio less subject to de-sense issues and more intuitive to program, however, the $170 Yaesu FT-60R is a good choice.
There is another option for listening to ham radio: inexpensive software-defined radios (SDRs). Here again, you have a couple of options. The $109 SDRPlay is a receiver that will enable you to hear broadcasts in several modes (FM, AM, Single-Side Band, CW, and so forth) from 1kHz to 2GHz, including all the popular ham bands. Installation is relatively straight-forward, but you still need some kind of antenna. The primary drawback with this option is that it is receive-only, there is no transmit option.
If you are willing to spend a little more time installing drivers and like, you can buy the RTL-SDR dongle for $27 on Amazon (antenna included). This dongle plugs into your computer, and your computer becomes the radio. The chip in this dongle is the same as in the SDRPlay, but like the Chinese radio vs non-Chinese radio decision, some will want to go ahead and buy the SDRPlay because of the ease of installation and what some find to be, more intuitive interface.