Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hamming It Up: Ham Radios 101 for Writers with William Whittom

You have written Armageddon. Holy smokes! I can't believe how bad things are in your plot line. No cell towers. No cable. Desperation! How are you going to get your heroine out of this mess? Have you considered a ham radio?

Fiona - 
William will you take a moment and introduce yourself to folks? Maybe give the information like a character sketch so our fellow writers might see you in a book as a character ~

William -
Born in 1961 in Missouri, I moved soon after. My father was a preacher.
Hometown is Roswell New Mexico.
Married in 1980 live today in Kentucky.
I wrote my first story at age 13 because a teacher wanted us to watch a TV show and add yourself into the plot. Since then, I have been writing fanfic. A lot of good TV shows finished but fans like to write their own stories to continue them. This was a fun way
to start because you already had your people and knew past plots.

I am a ham radio operator and a storm chaser/spotter.

Fiona -  
William can you tell me what a Ham radio is?

William - 
Ham radio is a lot of fun. It is amateurs not pros who enjoy building and talking to others around the world. Some people think it's like cb radio, but it's different. We have over 700,000 lic. operators in the USA.

Instead of having channels, we can slide all over the bands and talk all over the world.

Fiona - 
How did you get started using a ham radio? How does one become licensed?

William - 
I first got interested in ham radio back in the 60s watching a TV show, Hogans Heroes. The radio op on the show used cw or Morse code to talk to others and some times used voice. 

Getting licensed is easy. Today, there isn't a code test; its all questions. There are 3 levels of license: 
  • tech 
  • general 
  • extra 
The test can be found in books or online. It is multiple choice and in the study guides you get both the questions and answers so it's just a matter of memorizing some things.

Local clubs can test you, or you can go to hamfests and test.

Fiona - 
Hamfest sounds delicious ;)

Can you describe what a ham radio set up looks like, what kind of tower you need?

William - 
You can have large antennas on a tower or some use a wire. A dipole or other forms. I know some who have loaded up rain gutters or electric fences.

A typical radio station is 
  • a receiver 
  • a transmitter 
  • a loading coil. with a loading coil you can tune your radio to work on a mismatched antenna. Most are 12 volt radios so they can be used in a car.
Fiona - 
If a character who had no radio experience came upon such a set up, would they be able to figure out what to do? And can you walk us through the steps going 1.2.3. I sit down I reach out and press... so someone could write the scene?

William - 
There was a good movie a few years ago called FREQUENCY about ham radios. That would be a good research starting point.

  1. You would run a wire at make an antenna hook up a coax.
  2. Hook the coax to the tuner. 
  3. Run a jumper from the tuner to the radio.
  4. Turn it on maybe using a power supply converter. 
  5. You would need to tune the antenna where the swr is at the lowest point and the power is at the highest.
  6. Then, either using a Morse code key or mic. you transmit. 
Fiona -
Okay, wonderful. So things are not already set up, and you can't just come in, sit down, and press a button?

William - 
Most of the time no you need to tune. Even if you change frequencies, you need to re-tune.
Remember ham radio ops have frequencies from hf up into the microwaves. I personally have spoken to the space shuttle and to the international space station.

Fiona - 
Very cool!

Please define coax, jumper, swr.

William - 

  • Coax is the round antenna cable 
  • Jumper -  is a 2 or 3 foot long piece of coax 
  • SWR is standing wave ratio. it is a meter one would use to check for reflected power from a mismatched antenna. 
Fiona - 
When you tune, are you just rotating the knob until you find someone talking?

William - 
Tuning is just like tuning in your favorite music station in the car. It is different then tuning in a channel like on a TV set. 

Fiona - 
And can you define and explain the difference between hf and microwave?

William - 
Hf is high frequency or as most know it as shortwave. Then there the 2 meter freqs. we have 160 meters, 80 meters, 60 meters 40 meters, 20 meters 15 meters 10 meters 6 meters and 2 meters then we go into the uhf freqs. There are a lot of things to do with ham radio. today we are using digital and some even broadcast atv or amateur tv

Fiona -
Can you talk about how ham radio users assist in our safety, are involved with search and rescue, and other emergency departments?

William - 
Sure. In fact, emergencies are one of the main reasons to be involved in ham radio. during disasters like Katrina hams were called into service to communicate because no cell towers worked, and there wasn't any power to recharge handheld radios. On 9-11-01 hams were used to coordinate emergency shelters. Even in ice storms we are called to set up communications. 

President Bush signed an order that connected us with FEMA as when all else fails hams are the last thing to use for communication well they could use smoke signals.

Fiona - 
What would you like to tell us that I didn't know enough to ask?

William - 
A good website is

  • Hams have their own satellites. We are using computers along with radios so a lot of the things we do on the internet hams can do over radio.
  • Call signs in the USA start with k,w,a, or n.
SOME YOUTUBE Quick studies:

Fiona -
Congratulations on your new book!
An Orphan returns home after being shot to find the love of his life and his team in turmoil, can he prove his love for her while saving his team?

Before you go, we always ask about your favorite scar story.

William - 
When I was six and living in Roswell, one day after being
told no, I went outside with out my shirt on and stayed too long. Being as I wasn't wearing any sunscreen, I burned bad and had huge blisters on my back. Today, I still have scars from the burns

Fiona - 
Thank you for sharing. 

You can catch up with William at

Thanks so much for stopping by!

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