Amateur radio - a fascinating hobby

Table of contents


Ever since Marconi transmitted the first radio signals accross the Atlantic ocean, about one hundred years ago, amateur experimenters have played an important role in the development of radio communication. In the first part of the twentieth century, radio experimentation by members of the public was tolerated by the governements and radio amateurs were confined to bands which were considered 'usesless' for commercial or public use. After World War II, the vast amounts of surplus equipment, which became available, greatly stimulated amateur radio.

Now, new developments in computers, microcircuits and materials
offer amateur radio a bright new future

One of the most fascinating aspects of amateur radio, is making radio contact with other radio amateurs all over the world. And sometimes in remote locations.

Very often friendships for life are made between radio amateurs, carrying out experiments with various, and often advanced, communication techniques.

The short wave listener ( SWL ), may also contact these amateurs by sending them a QSL card, a postcard-size report which confirms the reception of radio contact made by two amateur stations.

A large percentage of the amateurs prefer experiment with components and circuits. Others use the computer as an entry point to the hobby. A great variety of techniques is used.

Many of the older radio amateurs will perhaps recall with nostalgy 'the good old days', before the existence of computers.

In many countries, radio amateurs have founded societies which provide forums to exchange ideas and also to protect the interests of the Radio Amateur Service. This is , in principle, not very different from the role of learned societies which cater for the interests of electronics professionals. Furthermore, since many professional electronics engineers and technicians are also radio amateurs, the distinction between 'amateur' and profession can become very much blurred.

Who are Radio Amateurs?

Attached to the licence is a unique callsign, which is issued by the licensing authority, usually a government department.

The callsign is issued at the time of granting a licence.

A licence can only be obtained after successfully passing an amateur radio examination, also conducted under the scrutiny of the licencing authority. The licence permits the radio amateur to carry out experiments in communications by radio, subject to a set of conditions which can be quite complex.

What is a ShortWave Listener ( SWL )

Many radio amateurs started their hobby listing to shortwave radio. Starting with radio broadcasts from distant countries, they become interested in receiving weak or distorted radio signals on congested frequency bands. A very popular aspect of his hobby is to monitor radio communications on the many frequency bands, allocated by internation agreement to amateur radio.

Receiving other kinds of radio transmission, like standard time signals, may sometimes be very interesting. The reception of signals from radio beacons can provide usefull information about the propagation of radio waves.

The SWL very often builds his own equipment, from antennas to receivers and signal processors. And with the availability of personal computers, other communication modes, such as weathermaps, radio telex bulletins, slowscan television have become increasingly popular.


Radio communication - including communications by radio amateurs - is regulated on an international level by the International Telecommunication Union, ITU, a United Nations body. This organisation has assigned to each country in the world a unique code to identify the radio stations which it administers. The code consistes of a short number of characters.

Each amateur radio station is assigned a station identifier, the callsign - which is unique for the entire world.
The call sign consists of two or three parts:

Identifying Shortwave listeners

In some countries short wave listeners are also issued with an identifying code. The identification is assigned by the association with which they are affiliated.

In the Netherlands the VERON distributes NL-numbers and the VRZA distributes PA-numbers. In Belgium the UBA distributes ONL-numbers and the GOS-listeners (from the former Soviet -Union) are identified by U-numbers. So, you may be confronted with 'NL8800', 'ONL2820' or 'UA3-170-112', indicating SWL's from Holland, Belgium and GOS respectively.

Radio Communication Techniques and Methods.

Telegraphy ( Morse code )
Switching the transmitter on and off using preditermined sequences is the oldest technique to send signals by radio. Morse is still very popular under harsh conditions. An appreceation of the communication mode is given in Ode to DAH Code

The transmitter is used to transmit speech, such as is used for almost all radio broadcasts.

Amateur television ( ATV and Slow Scan TV )
Pictures can be transmitted using a variety of techniques

Mobile and portable use.
Attention is paid to weight and size of the equipment, power consumption. In most populated area's many unmanned repeaters are operated, placed in a high location with good coverage to support communications between mobile stations which could otherwise not contact each other.

Long distance communications ( DX )
Knowledge of propagation aspects, forecasts and operationg experience are important ingredients for successfull radio commmunications over long distances.

Expeditions to remote locations
In their endeavour to provide radiocommuncation with all parts of the world, radio amateurs organize expeditions to remote and exotic places. In addition to highly reliable equipment, these expeditions require creativity and well developed organizing talent.

Moon Reflections ( EME )
Presently the ultimate in radio communication technology. The gap between two amateur stations is bridged by bouncing radio signals off the moon. This activity requires a high level of technical skill and dedication.

Amateur satellites.
The first amateur satellite was launched in 1961. Now, the latest generation of satellites designed and build by radio amateurs provide earth-to-space links. Also on most missions of the MIR space station one of the crewmembers is a licenced amateur radio operator.

Meteor Scatter
Long distance contacts can be made by reflecting radio waves off the ionized trails left by meteors as they travel through the ionosphere.

Radio Telex ( RTTY en AMTOR )
These techniques are mostly used for transmitting information bulletins. The bulletins can be received with uncomplicated equipment.

Packet Radio
This involves sending and receiving E-mail, by radio, exchange of computer programs and distributions of radio bulletins. A world wide radio packet-network is maintained by radio amateurs. The extra equipment is more complex then is required for radio telex. The Dutch Packet Network is very active.

Digital techniques.
Digital techniques play an ever increasing role in amateur radio. New stimuli are being given to the development of noise suppression systems, speech enhancement, filtering and modulation techniques, frequentie generation.

A list of Amateur Radio Societies and Associations

The future for Amateur Radio

With the explosive growth of computers and miniturised electronic systems, one may ask if there is still a future for amateur radio.

It is also pointed out that commercially available transceivers can outperform the home-made equipment at considerably lower cost. Furthermore congestion in the amateur frequency bands and interference caused by illegal broadcasting stations (often funded by national sources), make it hard for the beginning amateur operator to make radio contacts.

The advent of multi-media computers, low cost microwave transistors, complex integrated circuits and new materials and components, has expanded possible remedies a great deal.


Further information on amateur radio

Interesting publications in relation to Amateur radio.

Links to information on equipment manufacturers, magazines on amateur radio, related subjects like amateur astronomy, space research, can be found at the Home Page for Amateur Radio

In order to improve our service to the amateur radio community, we welcome your remarks and suggestions about this page.

Pieter J.T.Bruinsma (PA0PHB)
PACKET radio address: PA0PHB@PI8WNO.UTR.EU

Updated on 970210.