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Ten Secrets about Jumping into Ham Radio

In this article, you will find ten fundamental truths that can help even the rankest beginner keep the wheels turning during those first forays into ham radio. Keep these tips in mind and you'll be on your way to veteran status in no time.

Listen, listen, listen

Listening is the most powerful and important way to learn. Listen to the successful stations to learn their techniques. Listening to on-the-air contacts is called reading the mail. All ham communications are open and public — they can't be encrypted or obscured. Just turn on the radio and get a real-time seminar in any facet of ham radio communication techniques you care to try.

Buddy up

Find a friend who is learning the ropes like you are. Is there someone from your licensing class or club also getting started? Meet on the air and get used to using your equipment together. The best part is sharing in each other's successes!

Know your equipment

Hams joke about never reading the owner's manual, but don't believe it. Hams need to know their equipment. If a demo or tutorial is available to you, go through it. Practice adjusting the main controls or settings to observe the effects. Acquire at least a passing familiarity with even the most obscure controls. Keep the manual handy for quick reference, too.

Follow the manufacturer's recommendations

The manufacturers want you to get the best performance and satisfaction out of their equipment, don't they? That's why they have recommended settings and procedures. Follow them until you are comfortable enough to optimize performance on your own.

Try different things

Don't feel like you have to stay with one mode or band or magazine or radio. Changing your mind and striking out in a different direction is okay. As you become more comfortable with ham radio, feel free to dabble in anything that catches your fancy. Sooner or later, you'll discover something that makes you want to dive in deeply.

Remember that nobody knows everything

Surround yourself with handbooks and how-to articles, magazines, Web sites, manuals, and catalogs. Use any reference available. If you're confused or not getting the results you expect, ask someone at a club meeting, on the air, or in an Internet forum for help. The oldest tradition in ham radio is hams giving other hams a hand. We're amateurs! We like to do it! Someone helped us, and we'll help you.

Practice courtesy

Behind every receiver is a person just like you. Polite terms like "Please," "Thanks," "Excuse me," and "Sorry" work just as well on the air as they do in person. Listen before transmitting and be flexible. If you encounter a rude operator, just go somewhere else or find something else to do — don't let tempers escalate on the air.

Join in

By definition, ham radio isn't a solitary activity. Ham radio is a lot more fun if you have some regular acquaintances. Being welcomed on the air into a round-table QSO or a local weather net is great. Ham radio welcomes kings and paupers equally and we're all on a first-name basis. The ham bands are your home.

Get right back in the saddle

So what if you called CQ and nobody responded? So what if you put up a new antenna and it didn't work? Get right back in the saddle and try again. You won't find any ham out there who has had instant success right off the bat, so don't get discouraged and give up. You worked too hard to get that license!

Relax, it's a hobby!

We all know the scary feeling of thinking every ham is listening whenever you get on the air. Hey, relax and don't worry about a mistake putting you on a hobby-wide blacklist. If you try something new and it doesn't work out, that's okay. Everybody fumbles now and then. Keep ham radio fun for yourself and do things you enjoy.

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