It hasn’t been that long ago that I was a new ham. I remember with stark clarity the terror that getting on the air for the first time evoked. But I got over it, and you will, too. Looking back, I realize there was a logical progression of steps I followed that got me to where I am today. I didn’t invent these steps. ALL hams do the same steps, though maybe not in the same order.
I became an active ham a full year after I got my license. I probably *still* wouldn’t be on the air if I hadn’t established myself with a club, so getting involved with a club is Step One to ham - dom. Partnering with a club provided me with the opportunity to find others of like-minded interests, provided technical training, offered opportunities to get involved within the local ham community and gave me a chance to find a mentor. Most clubs always have something going on, so raise your hand whenever they ask for volunteers and you will get pulled along for the ride by default. If you’re shy, clubs give you a platform to pull out of your shell, develop your leadership skills and sharpen your public speaking abilities.
Step Two to spreading your ham-wings is local repeater activity. Cold-calling a repeater on a consistent basis will get you over the mic fright. Oh, believe me! I.Get.The.Fear. Trust me. When I first started calling out, I had two fears. One was, “Dear God, what if someone hears me”? The second was “Dear God, what if someone hears me and doesn’t answer”? Here’s my take. If they don’t hear you, you just got practice saying your callsign. If they do hear you and don’t answer – 1.) You’ll never know and 2.) I cannot say this plainly enough -- you absolutely cannot take it personally. There are times I hear someone call out and don’t answer. Mostly because I’m on my way out the door and I don’t have time for a full conversation. The third possibility, of course, is the one you’re hoping for – someone hears you, answers you, and you have an enjoyable conversation. Shrinks call it cognitive reward, hams call it QSO!
When I was trying to become more active, I purposely picked a repeater to use where I knew absolutely *no one* and the repeater wasn’t overly active. It took three months before I would QSO on my club repeater and I probably *still* wouldn’t be there if my Elmer hadn’t very purposefully dragged me over there. My thought was: I’d rather screw up in front of a stranger than a family member any day and “my guys” are family. If this is you -- just grit your teeth and get over it. The only person who gives a rip is you, so… just let it go.
Develop the habit of getting on the air every day, even if you don’t have a radio in your vehicle. If you choose not to go the mobile route, make yourself a promise to get on the air when you get home. If you need inspiration, text or email me, I’ll QSO. The key to becoming confident on the air is becoming comfortable with your local repeaters. This includes checking into local nets. In the metroplex, it’s possible to complete 30 consecutive days on the air by doing nothing but checking into local nets.
Getting involved in the local ham activities was my Step Three. Specifically, the Mansfield Pickle Parade followed by the Burleson Honey Tour bike race. As a side note: What. A. Coincidence. There are three, count ‘em three, opportunities for Christmas Parade work this very weekend!! Parades and races are nice, low key ways to introduce yourself to tactical net training and events. It’s heartwarming to be part of the greater good. Also, the equipment involved in these events is minimal. All you’ll need is an HT and a $15 earpiece / mic combination.
Field Day was my full-emersion Step Four. My club goes all-out for Field Day, so the guys were setting up antennas two days before the event. I’d love to tell you I was out there helping, but I was too new and too green to realize I was missing out on such a phenominal training opportunity. Field Day was an eye-opener, though. I quickly realized the difference between HF work and VHF/UHF work – aside from the fact that the HF rig has a big shiny knob and no repeater! It’s really cool to talk to people so far away. The importance of antennas, towers, quality coax, rotators, signal propagation, contesting and band-pass filters became crystal clear immediately. The dynamic interactions between my brethren were also quite entertaining. (Ladies, they really are completely different than we are, and I, for one, am oh so grateful.)
So these were the steps I took along my path. At some point, I also added in net control training. Where are you in your path?