208 episodes

Starting in the wonderful hobby of Amateur or HAM Radio can be daunting. Using low power with little experience is challenging but can be very rewarding. Every week I look at a different aspect of the hobby, how you as a beginner might fit in and get the very best from the 1000 hobbies that Amateur Radio represents. Note that this podcast continues as "Foundations of Amateur Radio".

What use is an F-call‪?‬ Onno (VK6FLAB)

    • Leisure
    • 5.0 • 2 Ratings

Starting in the wonderful hobby of Amateur or HAM Radio can be daunting. Using low power with little experience is challenging but can be very rewarding. Every week I look at a different aspect of the hobby, how you as a beginner might fit in and get the very best from the 1000 hobbies that Amateur Radio represents. Note that this podcast continues as "Foundations of Amateur Radio".



    What use is an F-call?

    This podcast started life in 2011 when I was asked to record a story I shared during the production of the weekly amateur radio news in Western Australia.

    I'd been a licensed radio amateur, or ham, for a few months and found myself surrounded by people who perceived the basic Australian foundation amateur licence wasn't worth anything.

    What use is an F-call? is my response to that sentiment. It's produced weekly.

    In 2015 after long deliberation it was renamed to Foundations of Amateur Radio so people outside Australia might also enjoy the experience.

    Although most of the items stand alone, I'd recommend that you start at the beginning in 2011 and listen in sequence.


    I'm Onno VK6FLAB

    • 45 sec
    L.A.S. - Lead Arse Syndrome

    L.A.S. - Lead Arse Syndrome

    What use is an F-call?

    It seems that there is a disease within the amateur radio community. It's spreading and seems to be contagious. There doesn't seem to be a cure and it seems to be pretty virulent. Symptoms include listlessness, deafness, stubbornness and apathy. Community members have aptly named it as L.A.S. or Lead Arse Syndrome.

    I receive a regular stream of emails and phone calls from fellow amateurs who share with me their latest idea or plan for an activity in the hobby. It's often a group activity, a plan to do something with the wider community, or a group of people with a common interest. It might be an outing, a meeting, a build-day, an activation, a web-site or some or other thing.

    The conversation often includes the question: "Do you think it's a good idea?"

    Often I'll say: "Absolutely, great, wonderful." Sometimes I'll suggest alternatives or point at an existing activity that is already underway.

    After that the response from the other person is often: "Well, I'll leave it with you."

    Fortunately I'm made of sterner stuff, having only a few other commitments in this community and I'll often suggest that they take on the project and I'll do whatever I can to support them.

    I can almost guarantee that's the very last I hear of the activity.

    So, what is it that stops people from making their idea into reality? Are they dense, lazy or is their idea wrong?


    It's that they lack the confidence to stick their neck out and do something, anything.

    You might wonder what this has to do with L.A.S. or Lead Arse Syndrome. It's simple. The rest of the community doesn't particularly care one way or the other. They might respond or not, often not; commit to something, or they might not, they might say they're coming, but don't show, they might start an activity but never finish it, they might participate for an hour during a 24 hour contest, but there is no commitment.

    I know, I should be grateful that they spend the hour, or tell me that their pet parrot died and they cannot attend.

    But frankly, I'm not.

    I think that this lack of participation, lack of engagement, lack of commitment is embarrassing. It's not community minded, it's not encouraging to new entrants and it sets a very bad example to the community. I understand that circumstances change and that people have commitments outside the hobby. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about an advanced level of apathy that infuses others and has them give up on their idea before they begin.

    I'd rather be surrounded by those who think that this is a fun hobby with stuff to learn, people to meet, things to do and places to go.

    Of course, if you're one of the few with an idea, then I salute you. Hold your head high, scream your idea from the rooftops, share it with the active community and get on with it.

    Unfortunately there is one of me and many of you. I'm happy to be your sounding board, but I've not yet figured out how to have more than 24 hours in a day.

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB

    • 3 min


    What use is an F-call?

    When you make contacts around the world with other amateurs the traditional way of confirming a contact is with a QSL card. It's a postcard-like affair that has the details of the station, and if all is well, the details of the contact between their station and yours.

    Traditionally if you want a QSL card, you'd go to your local post office and buy an International Reply-paid Coupon or IRC, but increasingly this has become more and more difficult, to the point where many post offices have no idea what you're talking about and will deny any existence of an IRC. Anyway, if you did manage to secure an IRC, you'd put your card and an IRC in an envelope and send it off to the remote station and hope that they'd send you back a card using the IRC as a way to pay for their stamp. In effect you're using the postal service to buy stamps for the other station.

    There is another hybrid version of confirming a contact using QSL cards, the Online QSL Request Service or OQRS. It's an online mechanism where instead of sending an IRC in an envelope and dealing with the post office, you send cold hard cash - via payment, like PayPal - to the other station and they send you a card, either in the mail, or via the QSL bureau.

    Note that often the QSL bureau option is free. You use OQRS to request the card, but the delivery is free, so no cash involved.

    I should mention that online-only versions of QSL-cards have also sprung up left right and centre. The two most trusted ones are Logbook Of The World, also knows as LOTW and eQSL. Both these services allow you to upload your contact log and when the other station does that as well, matching log entries result in a confirmed contact.

    If you're a fiend for pretty QSL cards, you don't need to compromise, online, offline or in-between. You can still get your contact confirmed.

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB

    • 2 min
    Retaining two letter callsigns is rubbish.

    Retaining two letter callsigns is rubbish.

    What use is an F-call?

    Recently I witnessed a discussion about callsigns. As you know, your amateur callsign is akin to your personal on-air identity. It's the thing that distinguishes your station from all the other stations on the globe.

    My callsign was assigned to me randomly, it was intended as a temporary stepping stone to a higher license, but over time I was distracted by all the things I could do as a Foundation Class amateur and my callsign now feels like "me".

    The discussion was about the re-issuing of callsigns. In Australia, if you don't renew your callsign, after a period of time, it becomes available to be re-issued to another amateur. This allows people to obtain that one particular call that they feel represents them.

    Some amateurs have the same callsign for many years. It's their identity, it's the thing they used in contests, camp-outs, chats and the rest of their amateur life. When an active, well respected amateur relinquishes their call, often when they become a silent key, there are amateurs who feel that this call should not be re-issued.

    The practice is different across the globe. In some countries, a callsign is for life, though it's unclear what happens when an amateur becomes silent. Likely there are places where the call becomes available, and in other places it doesn't.

    In Australia we have calls that come with two letters, VK6YS, Wally, or VK6AS, Andrew are examples of that. In total there are 26 times 26 different options, that is, 676 different two letter callsigns per call area. If we were to lock up each deserving two-letter callsign, we'd run out of two letter calls.

    While we're chopping down this idea, how would we decide who is deserving and what criteria would we use? If we ever get a single letter callsign, there would be 26 different callsigns. We'd run out even faster.

    There was much written about retaining and protecting two letter callsigns, but I'm sure I've shown that this is not a sustainable idea.

    I've seen, heard and read much about amateur radio since I joined the community. There is much rubbish among the gems. Retaining two-letter callsigns for ever is an example of rubbish.

    I wish those amateurs who want to protect their hobby went back to inventing, back to innovating, back to trying, testing, playing and having fun, rather than attempting to retain the racist, sexist, 1950's that they seem to think represents the pinnacle of Amateur Radio.

    And if you want to honour a callsign for a mate, then record their history, tell their stories, share their exploits, emulate their kindness and encouragement.

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB

    • 2 min
    Stop whining and get with the program...

    Stop whining and get with the program...

    What use is an F-call?

    We are part of an amazing hobby where inventiveness, inquiry and exploration is part and parcel of the thing we do. It's that spirit that got me interested in this hobby and fortunately I have enough friends in the hobby who share that view.

    Unfortunately, this hobby seems to also attract a group of nay-sayers, people who are always denigrating others, starting from the perspective of saying No, before asking How? Let's call them the whingers.

    These are the ones who complain about the ineffectiveness of the WIA, the ones who complain that when the license fee goes down, jump up and down for a refund of their five year payment which they made to save money in case the fees went up.

    These are the ones who want to quarantine callsigns for "deserving amateurs" but have several and want to have a particular callsign and can't wait until the holder becomes a silent key.

    The ones who say that F-calls should not be allowed on air, or should have their license expired automatically after 12 months because they must upgrade, the ones who tell people off on air, complain about how a contest is run, or want to continue to submit their contest logs on paper.

    I could go on, but it's depressing and this is a fun hobby.

    To all those whingers I say, get real. Stand up, be an amateur and get with the times. It used to be that you were in the forefront of exploration, but now you're just a whinging, whining old man. Join in or get out.

    To the rest of us, I encourage you to call out these whiners and point out to them that their complaints are misguided at best and downright destructive and malicious at worst.

    This is a hobby. You're supposed to have fun, laugh, make merry, enjoy the community, learn, explore, and lead the way.

    Sorry, just had to get that off my chest.

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB.

    • 1 min
    Stop and enjoy the electrons along the way...

    Stop and enjoy the electrons along the way...

    What use is an F-call?

    I'm a child of my time and my perspective is the result of input from fellow amateurs. I'm often in the group of amateurs who would rather buy than build, rather get something done, than do it yourself. The black box brigade if you like.

    The same is true for the antennas I use. I've been struggling with some verticals on the back of my car for months. I've got it working, mostly, but it was a lot of stuffing around. In the end, I added a black box, in the form of a tuner to make it work, sort of.

    The radio clubs I associate with have towers and multi-element beams, there are antenna farms, rotators, switch boxes, amplifiers and the like, all far removed from a simple set-up. Most of these are purchased and put together, rather than designed and built.

    During the week I spent some time with the other side of radio. A simple fishing pole with a string of wire, sitting on a groin pointed into the ocean, picking off signals left and right.

    Until now I've been approaching this along the lines of "get the antenna that works, make contacts, rinse and repeat". Sitting on the groin in the warm sun it occurred to me that there is nothing wrong with that idea, but that I was missing out on the journey along the way.

    I've been looking at my antenna problem as an annoyance, preventing me from getting on air, and while it did annoy me, it also taught me lots about vertical antenna design, about inductance, reactance, impedance and more.

    I like shiny new things, radios, computers, antennas and all the rest of it, but I've come to the realisation that there can also be a journey along the way. I'm not sure it's smelling roses, let's call it, enjoy the electrons.

    It remains to be seen if that translates into me making wacky antenna designs or not, but one thing I learned is not to be afraid of trying anymore.

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB

    • 2 min

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