Congratulations on a well earned result. No doubt you’ll find mountains of recommendations as to new radios, antennas, etc. and those choices will depend on your operating interests, site considerations, budget, etc. But there are some other things you might consider doing as you develop your Amateur Radio experience.
- When the FCC advises you that you have passed and ‘invoices’ you for your 35 dollar license fee, pay it quickly. Avoid using a smart phone or tablet to accomplish the transaction as the FCC website seems to struggle with these devices – use a computer. If you delay the 10 day window will close and it will be harder for you to complete the transaction and get your license.
- Once you are notified that the license is available, follow the instructions to print one or two actual ‘official’ copies and SIGN them. Each license document has a wallet size and a frame-able size. You may wish to have the wallet size laminated (after signing it) and carry it with you. It can be useful at ham events or when operating another’s station.
- With the license is hand, the biggest thing is to GET ON THE AIR. It is fairly common for new hams to be a bit intimidated by that microphone. GOTAhams can help you get your radio set up initially and joining our nightly net will, in just a few nights, hugely improve your comfort operating. If you have doubts or questions, contact us. (Contact info is on the web site). We are here to help. With some basic operating experience you will begin to explore the hugely varied range of activities and operating modes that are available to you within the Amateur Radio Service.
- Consider joining the ARRL if you have not already done so. Aside from it’s important advocacy role, membership brings some benefits to new hams. Not least of these is a choice of a magazine. The classic monthly ‘QST’ contains materials for new and experience hams, contest information, regulatory news, propagation, etc. As an alternative you can also choose the bimonthly ‘On The Air’ magazine which focuses it’s content on new entrants to the hobby. Whichever you choose, you can switch to the other and both are available to members in online digital editions, whichever print issue you select. ARRL also offers a useful email forwarding service. If you wish to publish an email address so that fellow hams can reach you with useful information or reports you may not want to put your main private email up in lights. An email address at firstname.lastname@example.org can be set up for ARRL members such that it forwards incoming mail to your private address. ARRL does reasonable spam filtering as well so this works well. You cannot send from that address (if you reply the return address will be your main private email) but for those that you wish to engage in correspondence it works out that you go ahead and share your main email address with those specific individuals. For those interested in beginning to compete for operating awards at any level your ARRL membership makes that possible. And, of course, you are supporting ARRLs advocacy for our hobby.
- Open at least a free account at QRZ.COM if you have not already done so. You can then post a public facing email address (such as an arrl.net address as discussed above or some other address of your choice). You will find that hams everywhere refer to QRZ to learn about you, to contact you with useful signal reports or information, etc.
- If you plan to operate much HF, or just for fun on VHF/UHF, consider having some QSL cards printed. These have been traditionally used to confirm contacts between stations. While much confirmation is done electronically these days, having some cards is still necessary for some DX stations that do not perform electronic confirmation and, frankly, it is sometimes fun. You can design a custom card, use off the shelf designs modified to reflect your call sign, have them printed professionally or, with some research, perhaps print them on card stock yourself. Costs for printing vary and the cost per card goes up quite a bit for low quantity jobs due to the labor of setting up the print job.
- If you plan to apply for a vanity call sign, consider doing it sooner rather than later. It saves trouble changing all of the items referred to above and you may prefer to have fellow hams get to know you by the call sign you would like to have long term.
- As you plan your station, consider location carefully. We often make the not-really-joking ‘joke’ that you should spend gold on the station location, silver on the antenna system and copper on the radios. Having a location that permits good antenna options, low noise and good propagation can make a huge difference, though of course it’s hard to make a change casually. On the equipment side, most experienced hams would far rather have a fantastic antenna and an older used radio than a super duper top of the line radio and a poor antenna. Working with your existing site, learn about antenna options and what will fit into your footprint while giving best results. Talk to your fellow hams and study a bit more. As a GOTAhams member you have access to fellow members in a wide range of circumstances that can describe and, to some extent, demonstrate their results. We did hear a pretty good joke recently: As a ham radio operator, if you are ever stranded alone in the wilderness all you need to do is call out that you need advice on a new antenna. You’ll instantly be surrounded by a dozen or so ham radio operators who will each tell you what you ought to build. That probably applies to choosing a radio as well.