Beginners Guide to Ham Radio
What is Amateur Radio?

Amateur radio is a community of people that use radio transmitters and receivers to communicate with other Amateur radio operators. The things that amateur radio operators do with their radios are diverse as the people themselves.Amateur radio operators are often called ham radio operators or simply “hams.” (The origin of this nickname is for all practical purposes lost. Although some people still speculate about, few agree and even few care. Amateur radio operators proudly call themselves hams and nobody knows why.) There are about 600 thousand hams in the United States and about 5 thousand hams in the Finger Lakes region.

Ham radio operators are licensed by the United States Government and enjoy a far more priviledges of radio operation than “CB” radio operators do. With these priviledges come responisbilities and rules for the operation of an amateur radio station. Specifically, there are a few things that hams are not allowed to do:

1) Hams are not allowed to do anything with their radios that makes them money in way. Bummer. Ham radio is a hobby, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely frivoulous. (Read on!)

2) Ham radio operator cannot `broadcast’ to the public. This means that ham radio transmissions are meant to be received by other ham radio operatators. While a short-wave radios or scanners will allow you to listen to the ham radio bands, what you will hear is hams talking to other hams and not music or other radio programs of `general’ interest.

Within these (and other) guidelines, however, hams are empowered to do just about everything that goverment and private radio stations are allowed to do.

Things you can to do with amateur radio

* Talk around the world - With HF radios hams can talk to other hams in literally any part of the globe.
* Talk around town - With small portable VHF and UHF transceivers hams enjoy extremely reliable communications within their local community.
* QRP - Communicating with “very low power” is a challange that many hams enjoy. QRP is usually practiced on the HF bands.
* Packet radio - The internet over ham radio? Not really … but ham radio operators enjoy a digital network of their own, all without wires!
* Internation morse code - Forget it … You can get a license without knowing one beep or boop of morse code. If you want to, though, it’s still allowed.
* Amateur television - It’s just like real television because it is real television.
* Slow Scan TV - Send pictures around the world for little or no cost.
* Contests - You can put your radio operating skills up against other hams and teams of hams.
* Order pizzas - It used to be a long standing joke around ham radio operators about what you can not do over ham radio … Now it’s perfectly legal! You can call you favorite pizzaria on your ham radio and order take-out dinner on the way home from work. Hopefully you’ll use your radio less for calling your doctor, the police, emergeny road-side assistance, 911 and other telephone-linked services.
* Emergency and other volunteer services - Floods, huricanes, mudslides, earthquakes, ice storms … when ever `normal’ communcations go out, hams are ready to use their radios to provide emergency communication services to their communites.
* Satelite communications - Hams have their own satelites … really! (Amateur’s satelites are easy to use too.
* Traffic handling - “Ham telegrams” are used to send messages to people around the world at no cost to the sender or the recipient; all done by ham radio operators volunteering their time and resorces.

How to become an amateur radio operator

All hams in the United States are licensed by the FCC. Getting a “D” on a mutliple-choice test and paying about six dollars is all it takes. The FCC doesn’t even give the test … Hams volunteer to give the test to people that want to become hams. These volunteer examiners then file the paperwork with the FCC and your ham radio license is set to you in the mail.

There are many ways to go about preparing for and taking your ham radio license test.

* Local clubs - For those that like a structured approach, many clubs organize meetings and classes to teach the basic skills of radio operation and prepare people for their ham radio license test. At the end of the classes, a test is given. If you pass, you’re a ham!
* Elmers - An elmer is the ham equivalent of a “Yoda.” Many new hams are taught my other hams. (Helping people is a common thread throughout the ham radio hobby.) An elmer knows the stuff you need to pass your test and will help you prepare. While an elmer can not give the FCC examination, he or she will be in touch with other hams in your area and know where public examinations are held.
* Self-study - It doesn’t seem right to tell you about going it alone, because then you’re not doing it all by yourself! Taking a class or having an Elmer is a far better way to get your license; and when you pass your test you will already have friends to talk to. But if you insist, I feel obliged to tell you how to do it because this is the way I did it.

What Hams Do

Whether you would like to chat with your friends on the way to work or school, check into a net to discuss topics of a mutual interest, or volunteer for emergency services, amateur radio is first and foremost about communication. With hams that means two way communication by radio. Radios can be hand-held transceivers similar to a walkie talkie, a mobile unit for use in a car or other vehicle, or a base station with an outdoor antenna used for local or distance communication. Regardless of the type of equipment radio amateurs have a wide range of activities they can pursue. Some of these are:

* Talking with friends within the local community using a hand-held transceiver (HT) on VHF (2 meters) or UHF (70 cm.). You can extend your HT range up to 50 miles or more by transmitting through a local repeater.
* DXing. DX means distance communication and with the right equipment worldwide communication on the HF bands (10 through 160 meters) is a regular possibility. See the section Amateur Radio Bands for a more complete description of the band plans.
* Assisting with emergency and disaster communication. Organizations in the amateur community such as the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and the National Traffic System (NTS) prepare amateurs with the training needed to assist in emergency situations.
* Technical experimenting. Hams come from all walks of life ranging from technicians to engineers, teachers to scientists, and students to retirees. For many of them the attraction to the hobby is to build their own equipment whether it is just a simple antenna, something as complex as a transmitter, or an interface between their radio and a computer.
* Contesting. Contesting is often called the "sport" of ham radio. Almost every weekend there is some form of amateur radio contest. Hams get on the air and compete to see who can make the most contacts in a limited period of time.
* Talk to an astronaut. Yes, it is really possible. Space stations do have ham radio equipment and licensed ham astronauts take the time to make contacts with amateurs on earth. Hams also have satellites where you can bounce a signal to communicate with other hams on earth.
* Use digital communication. Connect a computer to your radio and install some software and you can be communicating digitally over the air. Some of these digital modes can be more effective in marginal transmission conditions and some even sport error free transmission.
* Internet communication. Using some of the latest technologies hams can supplement a modest station with Internet connections. Using features such as URL or IRLP on a local repeater a ham in Toronto can talk to one in Vancouver or even Australia using a simple hand-held transceiver.

To get involved with any of these activities requires an amateur radio license and maybe a little help from a neighborly ham. The section How to Become a Radio Amateur explains what you need to get started.


Call Signs

Every licensed Radio Amateur is given a call sign that is used to identify you and your location of license. Each country that has Amateur Radio status is allocated a range of call signs by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). See below for pages containing these country allocations.
Prefix and Suffix

Call signs consist of a prefix and a suffix. The prefix is usually composed of one or two letters and a number such as VE4 in Canada for the province of Manitoba or K9 in the U.S. for the states Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Some countries have prefixes that are composed of a number and a letter such as 4X for Israel or 9K for Kuwait. If this sounds confusing tables of call sign allocations will be given later in this section to make things clear.

While the prefix uniquely identifies a country the suffix is unique for the individual. In Canada a call sign such as VE3ABC has VE3 (Ontario) as the prefix and ABC as the suffix. In the U.S the call sign N2MG has a prefix of N2 and suffix of MG. U.S. hams may also have a two letter prefix thus AB2Z is a valid call. Suffixes may also be less than three letters so you have call signs such as VE7AB in British Columbia and KH6Y in Hawaii.
Call Areas
In North America the number in the call sign generally refers to an area of the country. The 3 in VE3 refers to Ontario and the 6 in K6 refers to California. The number may be shared between states in the U.S. so that 1 as in K1 or W1 can refer to the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Usually in Canada the number refers to a single province although VE1 can refer to the Maritime provinces New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

Other countries follow a similar practice so you can have states in Brazil and Prefectures in Japan.

Using Phonetics

Amateurs are generally advised to use the phonetic alphabet when giving their call sign on the air. This helps others to clearly understand the call sign and is especially important under poor band conditions.
Canadian Prefixes

The table below contains the generally used prefixes for Canadian Radio Amateurs. Note that all calls have two letters followed by a single digit.
Call Sign Prefix Province or Territory
CY0 Sable Is
CY9 St-Paul Is
VA1, VE1 New Brunswick, Nova Scotia
VA2, VE2 Quebec
VA3, VE3 Ontario
VA4, VE4 Manitoba
VA5, VE5 Saskatchewan
VA6, VE6 Alberta
VA7, VE7 British Columbia
VE8 North West Territories
VE9 New Brunswick
VO1 Newfoundland
VO2 Labrador
VY0 Nunavut
VY1 Yukon
VY2 Prince Edward Island
U.S. Prefixes

Prefixes used by Amateurs in the United States are shown in the following table. U.S. Radio Amateurs may have either a single letter or two letters in the prefix. See the two letter allocations at the bottom of the table. The single letter prefixes K, and N are also in use by U.S. Amateurs. To further complicate matters Amateurs that have moved to a different area of the country may retain their existing call sign so when you hear W8ABC you may be receiving a signal from other than the W8 states.
Call Sign Prefix State
W0 Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota
W1 Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
W2 New Jersey, New York
W3 Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania
W4 Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia
W5 Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
W6 California
W7 Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Wyoming
W8 Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia
W9 Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin
AL0-7, KL0-7,
NL0-7, WL0-7 Alaska
AH6-7, KH6-7,
NH6-7, WH6-7 Hawaii
Additional prefixes

View Table of U.S. Possessions
A, AA - AK K, KA - KK
N, NA - NK
International Call Sign Allocation

Prefixes beginning with both letters and numbers are allocated to countries around the world that have Amateur Radio licensing. For a complete list of these allocations see the International Call Sign Allocation table.
Special Call Signs

In many countries special call sign allocations may be made to commemorate a special event. These special event call signs usually have an unusual prefix so that the station using the call will be easily recognized. For example the calls M2000A and 7S2000M were heard quite often commemorating the year 2000. CI3O was used in 1996 for the Charles Island DXpedition. Many of these special events also have unique QSL cards that are well worth the effort to make the contact and to send for the card. See the section on QSL cards to get more information on this aspect of the hobby.
Another type of call sign is the vanity call as it is called in the United States. The FCC in the U.S. and Industry Canada permit hams to apply for a call that has special meaning to them. For example, Bob R. might apply for the call KA5BOB or Pam W. might ask for VE3PAM for obvious reasons. Although my call is VE3BUC my name is Don and not Buc so not everyone with a name in their call has a vanity call.

Vanity Callsign Website

Vanity Callsign Headquarters
Operating Portable or Mobile

If an amateur operator is in a province, state or country other than his or her own then he/she is working portable. So if VE3BUC was operating in Alberta then he would use the call sign VE3BUC/VE6 pronounced as "VE3BUC portable VE6." If he was in Florida then the call sign VE3BUC/W4 would be used. W5AX in New York would use W5AX/W2 and in Quebec would use W5AX/VE2. Although a common practice for U.S. hams who have moved to a new state is to continue with their old callsign. Thus N2AB who moves to Texas might be using the same call without the portable indication. But he could sign N2AB/5. Confusing?

In most areas of the world the portable prefix comes before the call. Thus if VE3BUC was active in Australia the call would be VK1/VE3BUC pronounced "VK1 portable VE3BUC" or ZL1AM in California might use W6/ZL1AM although ZL1AM/W6 would also be acceptable there.

When working mobile you would use a call such as VE3BUC/M pronounced as "VE3BUC mobile."

One of the important decisions to make when operating is what band to use. The section Amateur Radio Bands looks into this topic.


Amateur Radio Bands

Just as many of us have a favorite fast food that we come back to time after time Radio Amateurs tend to have a favorite band that they use more frequently than other bands. The question of what band to use may be secondary to that favorite band. But the first question should be what band(s) am I licensed to use? From the beginning of the licensing process you will find out what bands your license covers.

Next it is a matter of having the right equipment for the bands you want to use. As an entry level license generally covers VHF(2m) and UHF(70cm) and many beginning hams will use one of both of these bands. Also hand-held single-band or dual-band radios for these bands are affordable and don't require a sophisticated antenna or power source. Most metropolitan areas also have amateur repeaters to extend the coverage when using VHF or UHF radios.
Band Restrictions

In addition to deciding what band to use there may also be restrictions within the band depending on your level of license. Canada and the U.S. each have slightly different band allocations which amateurs in each country must follow. See the sidebar for links to web sites where the band plans are defined.

Also the world is divided into 3 ITU regions each of which have their own band plan. These plans all have a great deal of overlap so you can usually talk to anyone anywhere providing you get onto a frequency acceptable to both.

RAC Web Site Band Plan

ARRL Web Site Band Plan
Popular Bands

So what are the bands that most Radio Amateurs use? The table below shows bands that are relatively common and how and when they are in use. Again your license will determine which bands and what portions you are eligible to use.
Band (meter) MHz Use*
HF 160 1.8 - 2.0 night
80 3.5 - 4.0 night and local day
40 7.0 - 7.3 night and local day
30 10.1 - 10.15 CW and digital
20 14.0 - 14.350 world wide day and night
17 18.068 - 18.168 world wide day and night
15 21.0 - 21.450 primarily a daytime band
12 24.890 - 24.990 primarily a daytime band
10 28.0 - 29.70 daytime during sunspot highs
VHF 6 50 - 54 local to world-wide
2 144 - 148 local and medium distance
UHF 70 cm 430 - 440 local

* It should be noted that band conditions vary for many reasons and thus all of these bands can at times take on the characteristics of others. See the section on Propagation. This table should be considered a general guideline.
HF Bands

For amateurs who have an interest in long distance communication the HF (high frequency) bands will be of great interest. These bands offer propagation to all parts of the world at some time during the day, night or season. Do you want to talk to Japan from the east coast or Europe from the west? There will often be a time and a band where this communication is possible.

During a sunspot high cycle conditions are best for the higher HF frequencies and during a low the low frequencies are often in demand with all kinds of variation in between. Magazines such as QST and CQ Amateur Radio publish charts monthly that predict the best propagation to different areas of the world. These are just best guesses and will help you to choose your times and bands but there is no substitute for getting on the air.

Canadian and U.S. hams have different band allocations in the HF area although there is a lot of common ground. The following pages show a summary of the allocations in each country. For complete details go to the corresponding RAC or ARRL web site listed above.

Canadian HF Band Allocation

U.S. HF Band Allocation

Now that you have an idea of the band(s) you will be operating how about some instruction on operating practices. The section Basic Operating explains how to make contacts and exchange information with other amateurs on the air.


Basic Operating

So you now have your license and you are ready to get on the air. The most important thing to do before beginning is to listen and observe how other hams are making their contacts. As different modes and bands seem to have slightly different approaches it helps to have heard a few exchanges on a band before you make that first contact.

Depending on your radio and license you may have to decide on where and how you want to begin operating. If you are using a hand-held transceiver you may begin through a local repeater or direct (simplex) on the VHF and UHF bands. If you passed a CW test you may begin on some of the HF bands using CW or SSB. So let's give a quick run-down of each of these operations.
Using a HT and a Repeater

Many amateurs begin by getting the Basic (Canada) or Technician (U.S.) class license. By far the most common mode of operation for them is the HT through a local repeater. Assuming you have the HT set up to the appropriate frequency, offset, and if necessary, CTCSS tone then you are ready to make your first contact.

It may seem obvious but you need to know your call sign before you begin. You might also want to review the appropriate phonetics in case someone asks you to clarify your call sign.
To Initiate a Call

For this instruction let's assume you live near the U.S./Canadian border and use a repeater that services hams in both areas. Areas such as Buffalo, Windsor, Vancouver and others all have this characteristic.

1. Press the mike button on the HT and say "VE3BUC listening." Of course you would use your own call sign.

That might be all you need for a response. But if there is no response (which is quite likely) then you might try again but this time say "VE3BUC is monitoring and listening for a call."

Usually you don't need to call CQ on a repeater although there is nothing wrong with that. We will look at calling CQ shortly.

2. You get a response something like "VE3BUC this is W2AXL in Buffalo returning. My name is Phil. Back to you."

At this point you want to wait for the repeater's tone to indicate it is okay to proceed.

3. Press you mike button and respond. At this point the discussion can be whatever you make it. Give your name and location and any other information you wish to Phil and when you are ready say "Over" or "Back to you."

It is a good idea to give your call sign frequently so after a longer transmission you would say "W2AXL this is VE3BUC. Over."

The use of the terms "over" or "back to you" are a courtesy that lets the other operating know that you are finished talking and are turning the operation back to him or her.
4. At the end of the contact you would finally say goodbye or 73 and sign off by saying "W2AXL this is VE3BUC clear and monitoring." That is if you intend to continue to monitor. If not you could say "...clear and QRT" instead.

Q Signals

Q signals are commonly used in CW to abbreviate questions or statements. Although not many are used in Phone, QRT is quite common. See Q Signals Explained for details.
To Respond to a Call

To respond to a call over the repeater with a HT you would take on the role of the opposite person in the above discussion. You hear W2AXL calling on the repeater so answer as follows after the repeater tone drops:

1. "W2AXL this is VE3BUC. Good morning my name is Don and my location is Niagara Falls. Over to you."

2. Basically the exchange would proceed as discussed above. Be sure to identify your station occasionally and definitely identify yourself at the end of the contact as explained above.
Making Direct Phone Contacts

Whether you are operating HF, VHF or UHF without a repeater the procedure is essentially the same. In each case you will be transmitting directly by radio waves to another amateur's radio. You only need to set the operating band and frequency without the need for an offset or tone to access a repeater. However, depending on your radio and antenna it may be necessary to tune the antenna before beginning.
Calling CQ to Make a Contact

Let's assume your license permits you to operate SSB on 10 meters.

1. Begin by finding a clear frequency such as 28.360. Speak clearly into the mike and ask "Is this frequency in use? This is VE3BUC." If you get no response you might ask a second time just to be sure. Again if there is no response then proceed to step 2. If someone says that the frequency is in use then just move to another clear frequency and try again.

2. Now call "CQ CQ CQ. This is Victor Echo 3 Bravo Uniform Charlie calling CQ CQ CQ. This is Victor Echo 3 Bravo Uniform Charlie, VE3BUC calling CQ and waiting for a call."

Now you listen for the return call. Being on an HF band (10 meters) it is possible to get a call ranging from very strong to very weak.

3. You hear "VE3BUC this is Papa Yankee 1 Alpha November Foxtrot PY1ANF calling."
4. You respond by saying "PY1ANF (using phonetics is best) this is VE3BUC. Thanks for the call your signal is 59. My name is Don and my QTH is Ontario. So how do you copy? PY1ANF this is VE3BUC over."

You have made your first HF contact. At this point you can make the contact as long or short as you like depending on the band conditions and what you find to discuss with your new friend in Brazil.

RST Reports

Amateurs use the RST system for reporting signal strength and readability. See RST Explained for details.

5. You end an HF contact by giving both call signs and signing off. For example: "... thanks Luis for the contact and 73 to you and your family. PY1ANF this is VE3BUC signing off."

What do you do if more than one station responds to your call? If you hear one call clearly then simply respond to that station as discussed above. If you hear only parts of call signs, maybe "Alpha November" then in step 4 begin by saying "the station with Alpha November make your call." Once you have heard the complete call sign you can proceed as in step 4.
Responding to a CQ

Begin by tuning within the range of frequencies that you are permitted to operate and find a station calling CQ. To respond to the station you take on the role of the other station in the above exchange. The one difference is that after you call you may find out that other stations are also calling and that your call is not immediately recognized. If so wait until the stations complete their contact and then try again. If you don't want to wait then tune for another station calling CQ and answer this call.
CW Contacts

Making a CW contact is very similar to making a phone contact except of course you are using Morse Code. The process of CQing and exchanging information is about the same although CW operators use more abbreviations to make sending faster.

1. Call CQ as follows: "CQ CQ CQ de VE3BUC VE3BUC VE3BUC K" and wait for a response.

Note the abbreviations used. "de" means "this is" and "K" means "go." You do not need to use phonetics in CW.

2. The other station may respond as "VE3BUC de PY1ANF PY1ANF K"

To avoid confusion I have left out the punctuation in the above line. Normally punctuation is not used for casual contacts to reduce the amount of sending needed. It usually is quite obvious to both operators where the punctuation should go.

Notice the use of abbreviations. de, GM, UR, RPT, NM, ES, QTH, KN are all commonly used. The table shows the meaning of common abbreviations used in CW.

The underlined codes are sent without a pause between the letters.

Abbreviation Use
AR over
de from or "this is"
ES and
GM good morning
K go
KN go only
NM name
QTH location
RPT report
R roger
SK clear
tnx thanks
UR your, you are
73 best wishes

4. The exchange of information continues as for phone except that CW operators will use the abbreviated form of words on a regular basis during their exchange.

5. At the end of the contact you might finish as follows: "... tnx Luis fer the QSO 73 es gud DX. PY1ANF de VE3BUC SK"

Again several abbreviations were used but these are obvious I hope. "fer" instead of "for" is simply less keying and "gud" for "good" also saves the wrist.

Now that you have made some contacts you might want to begin exchanging QSL cards. A collection of cards can be one of the most satisfying aspects of ham radio. The section on QSL Cards introduces this aspect of the hobby.


Operating Modes
Amateurs radio operators have a variety of modes to choose from when engaged in two way communication. A mode refers to the way the signal is modulated during transmission. Commonly used forms of modulation are AM, FM, SSB, and digital. In order for a signal to be transmitted and received in a readable manner it is modulated electronically. Both transmitter and receiver must be using the same form of modulation for the communication to be successful. Each of these modes will be discussed below. The table of preferred modes for voice communication gives some idea of what to expect when you use a particular band. Some modes such as Rtty use LSB for all bands.

Preferred Modes
The following voice modes are used by general agreement.

LSB 160, 80, 40 meters
USB 20, 17, 15, 12, 10 meters
FM 2, 1.25 m and 70 cm. Some USB is also used.

Each mode has its own unique characteristics. One of these is amount of bandwidth occupied by the signal. CW is quite narrow (less than 250 Hz) while FM is rather wide (15-20 kHz). A narrower signal means there is room for more signals and thus more activity on the band. On the other hand a narrow signal transmits less quality or information. CW requires the use of Morse code whereas FM results in a high quality signal for voice communication. In the following each of the more widely used modes is discussed briefly.

CW (continuous wave) is a simple unmodulated signal unlike others which use some form of modulation. By interrupting the signal with a key, Morse code is sent. Thus Morse code is not a mode but, as the name implies, a code which is used to communicate by controlling the CW signal. Although it takes some time and practice to become proficient with the code using CW is one of the most reliable forms of communication as it can generally make it through the most difficult conditions where other signals can't.

AM (amplitude modulation) was the early mode used by hams for voice transmission. In AM the signal is a carrier (like CW) that has upper and lower sidebands that are modulated by varying the amplitude (strength) of the signal. Most shortwave broadcast stations use this method. If you tune to the BBC or some such station using either USB or LSB on your receiver you can hear the carrier as a continuous tone as you move slightly away from the center of the signal. If you listen around the upper end of the 80 meter band you may find some hams using this mode. However AM takes twice the bandwidth of SSB and so is not widely used in Amateur radio.

SSB (single sideband) is a mode where the carrier and one sideband of the AM mode has been suppressed. Whether using USB (upper sideband) or LSB (lower sideband) more of the transmitter's signal is focused in the sideband used as compared to AM. As a result the signal travels farther and is easier to copy under many unfavourable conditions. SSB is the phone mode of choice for Amateurs on the HF bands.

FM (frequency modulation) is what you hear on 2 meters when using a handheld and working through the club repeater. It is the mode where most hams begin. FM has exceptional quality for voice communication and there is generally no noise or fading that you hear on HF with SSB or CW. However because of its wide bandwidth requirements it is usually limited to bands such as 2m or 70cm where there is lots of room. Some FM can also be heard on 10 meters around 29 MHz.
Digital Modes

Digital modes have been around since RTTY but really took off with the computer generation. To oversimplify digital modes use the off-on (binary 0-1) to send information. CW is really a form of this although quite rudimentary. Most digital modes require a computer to be interfaced with the radio to assist with sending and receiving the data. Most also require a TNC (terminal node controller) with a chip that supports the particular mode. You send by tying on a keyboard and receive by viewing the information received on the screen. Some of the more popular digital modes are:

* RTTY - Radioteletype (RTTY) uses a baudot (5 bits per character) or ASCII code (7 bits per character) to communicate. RTTY is almost as reliable as CW and there are many hams who use this mode on a regular basis on the HF bands.
* Packet - uses the complete ASCII character set which permits both upper- and lowercase characters in a transmission. Packet is error-free which is achieved by sending data in small packets with a check bit. If an error is detected by the receiving station it replies and requests that the packet be resent. This is repeated as needed to receive the packet correctly. When signals are good a packet rarely needs to be sent twice but under poor conditions the resending of error packets slows down the exchange of information.
* Tor Modes - TOR means "teleprinting over radio." These modes include AMTOR, Pactor, G-TOR and Clover. Basically they all use some variation of the technique mentioned in packet for ensuring error-free transmission. Each use specialized algorithms for transmission resulting in improved speed and accuracy.
* PSK-31 - is a relative newcomer to the digital scene and is fast becoming a primary digital mode. One reason for its appeal is that it uses the sound card in the computer to send and receive through the radio. No other special equipment is needed. PSK-31 uses very little bandwidth, less than CW and can function very well at low signal strengths. Unlike Packet and TOR it is not error-free.


Fast scan TV (FSTV) and slow scan TV (SSTV) are modes used to send pictures or images over the radio. SSTV is generally used on the HF bands and can only send a still picture due to its low data rate and bandwidth. FSTV on the other hand is generally used on the UHF bands and can send a moving picture. Recently several HT manufacturers have produced handheld radios with built-in cameras and screens for use in this mode.

IRLP (Internet Radio Linking Project) is a method of linking the Internet with Amateur Radio. Usually the link is made through a local repeater so you can connect to someone with a handheld. Basically you sign on to the local repeater and enter a code to connect you to the Internet link. From there you are connected to other repeaters who are also on the Internet. So with your handheld you can be taking to hams many thousands of miles away with the signal quality of a local contact.
IRLP is a Canadian invention by VE7LTD and uses Voice over IP (VoIP) to instantly interconnect one or more repeaters around the world. Now with your basic license new radio amateurs are able to use an HT to communicate worldwide.

IRLP in Depth

Monitor IRLP on the Internet

The aim of the Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) is to provide a simple and easy system to link radio systems together using the Internet as the communications backbone. This allows hams from all around the world to talk to one another without relying on radio conditions. Be sure to see David Cameron VE7LTD's excellent website for more detail.

Want More? See Paul's (VE3SY) full article on IRLP

This has been a brief introduction to the modes you will encounter in Amateur Radio. For more detail the ARRL Handbook is an excellent resource as are many of the web sites devoted to Amateur Radio. Once you have chosen your mode consider the many Amateur Activiti