I just got licensed a few weeks back and have been connecting with repeaters on my 2m/7cm HT. My plan is to get a mobile antenna for use in the car and make an antenna for home operation. While those will let me connect with more repeaters and nets locally, it's not really changing what I do.

With conversations I've overheard and had I get the feeling that the realm of amateur radio is huge, but when I ask others what to do next, the most common response is "it depends on what you want to do." I get that, but I'm not really sure what you can do. Kind of a catch-22.

So, here's my two-part objective question:

What are specific areas that some people get into within amateur radio? And what is the first/next step to get into those areas if it sounds interesting to me?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's difficult to imagine a broader question. This is equivalent to "what is amateur radio?", except that it explicitly disallows any general, summary answer. $\endgroup$ Mar 23 '14 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with @PhilFrost the question is extremely broad and un-answerable in the Q&A format of SE. Perhaps rephrasing the question with a specific goal, hunting DX, contacting all US States, etc, would be appropriate. $\endgroup$ Mar 24 '14 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ Ron & Phil, I agree this is immensely broad and possibly better suited as a community wiki page than Q&A (as suggested below), but the reason this type of question is needed is that I (and others beginning with radio) don't know what we don't know and therefore can't ask as specific a question as is preferred here. $\endgroup$
    – conan
    Mar 24 '14 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ @conan That is a completely unsound line of thought. Replace the phrase "amateur radio" in your question with any other topic on earth to illustrate the point. "What are specific areas that some people get into within computers?", "What are specific areas that some people get into within cycling?", "What are specific areas that some people get into within programming?", etc. "please enumerate all facets of a seemingly boundless subject matter" is not a reasonable question with a "correct" answer, cannot really have an authoritative answer either and might change in the future too. $\endgroup$
    – BenSwayne
    Mar 26 '14 at 3:09
  • $\begingroup$ wikified; I'll leave it up to voters as to whether it remains open as wiki or gets closed. $\endgroup$
    – Amber
    May 20 '14 at 3:55

Here's a taxonomy of some things hams do. It can hardly be complete, but hopefully it covers both the broad areas and some examples of very particular activities.

(“And what to do next” for each activity would be far too much for one answer; I suggest that if any of these things interest you to ask about them individually.)

  • Local communications:

    • Talking with your friends / acquaintances / random strangers
      • ...while stuck in traffic
    • Public service
      • Event communications support
      • Emergency communications (“emcomm”) and preparation/practice
        • Ham emergency organizations (US: ARES/RACES)
        • Coordinating with local public safety
        • Formal traffic handling
        • Physical preparedness (getting yourself and your radio out of or into a situation)
  • Making contacts:

    • Contacting as many people/countries/entities as you can
      • ...under a time limit (contesting)
        • Field Day
      • ...or not (awards)
    • Making technically challenging contacts
      • via or to satellites
      • DX (long distance)
      • Unusual propagation (EME, aurora, meteor scatter, etc.)
      • QRP (reduced transmit power)
      • using extremely high frequencies
    • Making contacts from strange places
      • formally: DXpeditions, SOTA
      • informally: from that hill you just hiked up
      • while in an airplane
      • after jumping out of an airplane
  • Technical: designing or building your own...

    • antennas
      • for gain, bandwidth, efficiency, stealth, size, or parts cost
    • receivers, transmitters, or transceivers
    • digital mode interfaces/software
      • Inventing a new digital mode
    • software-defined radios
      • RF/ADC/DAC hardware
      • DSP software
        • ...running on a normal computer with a RF peripheral
        • ...running on a dedicated FPGA/DSP chip in an all-in-one unit
    • test equipment
    • automation/integration (computer control, remote control, etc.)
    • power supplies, cases, cabling, mounting
      • ...all together as a "go box"
  • Communication not between two people:

    • long-distance radio-controlled aircraft
      • ...with onboard "first-person view" cameras
    • direction finding to locate hidden transmitters (“transmitter hunting”, “DFing”, “foxhunting”)
      • ...that are hidden for the purpose
        • ...in urban areas and sought from a car
        • ...in wilderness areas and sought on foot
          • ...as a formalized sport (“ARDF”, “radiosport”, “radio orienteering”)
      • ...that are interfering with communications
        • ...accidentally
          • ...and helping the responsible party fix it
        • ...maliciously
          • ...and notifying the relevant authorities
    • APRS
      • position tracking (transmitting GPS position data, not DF)
      • weather stations
  • $\begingroup$ This would make a good community wiki answer. $\endgroup$ Mar 24 '14 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ @PhilFrost ...yeah, it should be. I'll admit I didn't make it so in the first place because I wanted the rep. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin Reid AG6YO
    Mar 24 '14 at 14:16

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