Departure Lounge

By Armond Noble
This item appears on page 77 of the December 2010 issue.

There is a hobby that could be considered a cousin to travel, and that is Amateur Radio. Your voice can go to the far reaches of the globe, prompting responses from people on the air, and you never leave your chair.

In the US there are about 650,000 FCC-licensed Amateur Radio operators. Upon passing an examination, they each were issued their own distinctive call sign, the prefix of which identifies the country they are in.

For example, US call signs begin with W, K, A or N. The prefix for our neighbors to the north is VE and to the south, XE. Japanese stations start with JA and German stations begin with DL. New Zealand is ZL, Spain is EA and Australia is VK. So if you hear an operator identify himself as “JA1BEN,” you would first know he is in Japan; the number (which is geographical) tells you he’s in the Tokyo area, and the “BEN” is his individual part.

In the US, the number 1 is for those in the New England states and 2 is for New York and New Jersey. The southeast uses 4; Texas and nearby states are 5, and California is 6. My call sign is N6WR. Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and Montana are 7, and it continues across the nation.

All of this takes place on what are called the short-wave bands. The band used most for worldwide communication is the 20 Meter band, which is from 14.000 MegaHertz to 14.350 MHz. There are many bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10 as well as 6, 2 and higher, the latter used mostly for more local contacts.

In the field of Amateur Radio there are many awards. One is DXCC. DX is the term that indicates long distance, and CC is for Century Club (100 countries), which is where I got the idea for The ITN 100 Nations Award. In tallying locations around the world, radio organizations count about 320 “entities” (which, however, we don’t for the ITN award). As you might well imagine, the Amateur Radio operators who are avid DXers really know their world geography.

Practically every community has a local radio club, whose members gather once a month. Their programs may be technical in nature or about operating. The clubs also feature classes which prepare prospective operators to take the exam. The Federal Communications Commission sends the exams to the local clubs, which administer the test. Back when I was first licensed (1958), you had to go the FCC office to take the test.

Now, sometimes when I mention Amateur Radio, as I did recently when asked to give a talk at a Rotary Club, someone asks, “Is that CB?” No, No, No. Totally and completely different. Between Amateur Radio and CB, there are huge differences in their utilization and the behavior and knowledge of the operators.

The FCC doesn’t call Amateur Radio a hobby. It is termed the Amateur Radio Service, and there are reasons for giving private individuals portions of the radio spectrum. One is creating a pool of operators to handle emergency communications when the civil links fail. The other reason is to enhance international goodwill.

Possibly, in the past, you may have been interested in getting a license but found the Morse code test too difficult. Well (much to the dismay of many), the CW test was dropped.

Should you, from this brief description, feel you might be interested in becoming an Amateur Radio operator, you can contact the national organization the American Radio Relay League in Newington, CT (860/594-0200) or go to their website,

The ARRL will be able to tell you where there is a radio club in your area and recommend study guides for taking the technical exam — which is not all that difficult anymore; people from 10 to 90 are passing it. While about 50% of amateurs are employed in engineering or technical fields, the other half are not.