Please Read: Archives

Hi Everyone,  odds are good that you’ve been directed to this site from one of my books.  The Road Home and The Day After (sequel to The Road Home) both pointed to  Personal Emergency Communications – Staying in Touch Post-Disaster pointed to

The Road Home
The Day After (Sequel to The Road Home)
Personal Emergency Comms

And there was one more blog…, in which I wrote several reviews of radio-focused books.

They’ve all been migrated!  And now everything is here, in one, convenient location, for your reading pleasure :-).  And it will be here for the foreseeable future.

(Please note that the publication dates for the articles were reset when I migrated the content. Apologies if that mattered to you for any reason.)

Enjoy, and for the radio folks, 73!

-Andrew, AB8L



Why Call Signs are Cool

A ham radio operator is issued a call sign by the FCC, after he or she passes a licensing exam.  The call sign is used to identify the person operating the radio, whenever transmitting on ham frequencies.  Since 1934, west of the Mississippi, call signs that start with “K” are issued, and east of the Mississippi, call signs that start with “W” are issued.  If you listen to music on the radio in the car or at home, you will occasionally hear the station announce “This is KMPS” or “You’re listening to WKRP” (or some other combination of letters) – this is their call sign, also issued by the FCC.  Since the station is a business, their call-sign is a slightly different format, but the idea is the same.  People who talk on certain frequencies have to identify themselves with a call sign.  When you get your license, you’ll get your own call-sign!

If you’re willing to pay a few dollars extra, you can get a call-sign with letters and numbers that you choose, called a “vanity call sign.”  And depending on the level of license that you choose to get, they will be anywhere from four to six characters long.  If you are able to get the “Extra” license, you can get a call sign with four, five, or six characters.  Having a “General” license will allow you to use five or six characters, and the “Technician” license will allow you to use six.  If you prefer, you can keep the original six-character that you are issued by the FCC, regardless of what additional licenses you may get later.  Here are some fun possibilities, combining different characters:  N0HOW, K1SS, K0RN, W0MAN, WA5HME, and KN1TTR.  When it’s your turn, you choose!

Do you want to look up a call sign?  You can do that here:
If you’re looking for more details, you could also try the FCC database directly:

Open Letter to Readers – What Ham Radio Books do you Want Reviewed?

Ham Radio Books
Which ham radio books would you like to see reviewed?

Hi Readers,

When I started getting into amateur radio, it seemed like there were a *lot* of ham radio books that I needed to be reading. It didn’t take long for me to realize that there aren’t really that many, and definitely not many new ones, aside from yearly revisions of various handbooks. In fact, after authoring my third book with a ham radio focus, I am probably one of the more prolific authors in this area.

However, new books come out occasionally, and while I’m always interested in learning more, I don’t always purchase or otherwise get a chance to read them. But I will do that for you! 🙂

Before I ask, I guess it’s worth revisiting some good places to purchase amateur radio communication-focused books. You have multiple options, and maybe even a local “brick annd mortar” store that will let you look at a book before purchasing, especially Ham Radio Outlet, which has several stores across the country.

Recommended Amateur Radio Book Sellers

  • ARRL’s web site: This is a great place to browse and learn more about each book.
  • Ham Radio Outlet: Unfortunately, their site isn’t the best way to browse many books at once (no book pictures until you click on each link), as compared to ARRL’s site. That said, their customer service is excellent and I’ve purchased many items from them – they’re great folks!
  • AES (Amateur Electronic Supply) has a great store here:
  • And of course, there’s, and you can see some of my reviewed and recommended books in the Bookstore page (see the “Bookstore” link at the top of  this web page).

What Ham Radio Books do You Want to Learn More About?

In other words, what book(s) do you think would be useful for me to review on this site? I value your input, so please let me know! For example, are you interested in getting a better idea what’s in the ARRL Repeater Directory (aside from… frequencies and tones)? How about a book on low power communications? Do you have a preference?

Of course, there’s always the option to simply write another book. I just finished the sequel to ‘The Road Home”, which is titled “The Day After” – it’s another radio-focused adventure, with non-fiction endnotes. But that’s fiction, and I’m not sure how often people who come to a site like this are actually interested in fiction, versus the down and dirty reference material that comprises the overwhelming majority of amateur radio literature.

There’s no reason I couldn’t write another non-fiction book. If you’ve seen my book “Personal Emergency Communications“, then you’ll have a good idea of the level of depth I prefer. I’m not an electrical engineer don’t feel compelled to do a lot more studying in that area at the moment. However I do have a passion for providing information that less technical readers can learn from, even if the topic is somewhat technical. Is there a topic you think deserves a book? I’d love your feedback there too.


Andrew, AB8L

Emergency Power for Radio Commmunications

Emergency Power for Radio Communications
Emergency Power for Radio Communications

Emergency Power for Radio Communications is one of the best books I’ve seen so far on the topic of creating reliable, portable back-up power solutions.  Even though the focus of this book is on radio comms, the solutions Michael Bryce WB8VGE describes are useful for just about any of your power needs – recharging other communications devices, lighting, etc.

Whether you’re a radio person, looking g at off-grid power solutions for your cabin, or interested in alternate power sources for any other reason, like a winter storm, this book is jam-packed with very useful information.  Even though the title says “for Radio Communications”, don’t let that fool you.  This book is for anyone who needs power in an emergency.  It could have been titled “Emergency Power Solutions for Any Reason” (but that wouldn’t have sounded as good, I guess).

Let’s quickly look over what’s covered, with a little editorializing on my part (that’s why  you’re reading, right? :-)).

  1. Hey, I am in the Dark: This chapter is about lighting.  You may think that talking about batteries or generators or radios would come first, but if you think about it, if you have no power, and it’s not daytime, light is critical!  This is a good, basic review of emergency lighting options.
  2. Solar Power:  Basics of solar panels, types, how to calculate $/Watt, power ratings, making your own panels, mounting, safety, dealing with wind, and more.  This is a great intro to solar power basics.
  3. Charge Controllers for Photovoltaic Systems: It’s not often you see a set of solar panels with no charge controllers.  All the energy coming from those panels needs to be managed somehow, and you’ll learn about how they work, different types, what you will need for your setup, and more.
  4. Generators: Gas, Wind, and Water: This is interesting.  I’ve never seen anyone lump these technologies together in one section before.  In either case, the author does a solid review of the different types and technologies that exist for gas generators.  Even if you only need to power part of your house with a generator when the power is out, this book will be worth the purchase just for this section.  I learned a lot here. He also briefly describes some wind and water power basics.  If you are planning on setting up a permanent off-grid wind or micro-hydro power solution, this won’t be enough info, but will get you started.
  5. Load Sizing: How much equipment do you need to run and how much power will it consume?  If you don’t know, you could be in for a nasty surprise when you run out of power, the sun has just set, and your emergency power solution happens to be solar panels and batteries.  This section will help you calculate what you need.
  6. Holding your Volts: Battery Systems and Storage:  All about batteries.  Types are covered – NiCad, NiMH, Lithium-ion, flooded lead-acid, AGM, and gel-cell .  More details of voltage, temperature, charging, amp-hours, maintenance, setting up a battery bank, safety, and examples of what *not* to do are also covered.  And there are a lot of good pictures.  Another fantastic resource for anyone who needs to use battery power.
  7. Systems for Emergency Power:  This is where it all comes together – the alternate power source, power management and storage as needed.
  8. Inverters:  If you need AC power and have a battery, you will need an inverter.  But what kind? How much power should it produce?  How big of a batter would you need to produce enough AC?  Do you need  a pure sine wave?  Does it need to tie to the power grid?  These questions and many more answered here.
    Station Instrumentation:   You will learn various ways to measure and monitor your power supply.
  9. Safety:  Of course, electricity can be dangerous for a few reasons.  This is definitely worth reviewing.  To his credit, the author discusses safety all through the other sections too.
  10. Emergency Practices:  One thing I like about this chapter is that the author covers general emergency preparedness well, discussing an overall plan, budget, light, communications (of course), food and water, health & sanitation, pets, firearms, and getting others involved.  For a short chapter, it is dense with good advice.

There are a few appendices at the end, also content-rich.  All in all, this book is a treasure trove of emergency power information, and better than most books I’ve seen on the topic.  Enjoy!

The Road Home – Unique Ham Radio Fiction

Modern Ham Radio Fiction - The Road Home
The Road Home – Unique Adventure with Ham Radio

The Road Home” is a cool and unusual book when it comes to ham radio.  One reason is because it’s fiction.  As far as I know, it’s the only adventure fiction available that focuses on amateur radio as a preparedness tool.  Another reason it’s unusual is that it incorporates some educational, non-fiction preparedness tips and tricks throughout the story, so if you want more details on what the protagonists are doing, what resources may or may not be available in an emergency, to learn some amateur radio basics, this book places these resources at your disposal, organized at the end of the book.

The text on the back will give you a good idea of the tone: “Robbie thought he was ready for a camping trip in the mountains near Seattle. He and his father Jeff made it into the mountains without a hitch, but nothing could have prepared them for the rest of the trip! After a city-busting earthquake strikes the Seattle area, Robbie and his father have to rely on their wits and some new-found skills to get home safely, dealing with many unexpected obstacles on the way. To make matters even worse, they still need to rescue the rest of their family from an insidious danger that made its way to their doorstep. The story combines exciting, non-stop action with dozens of practical emergency preparedness and high-tech ham radio tips that you will find helpful in many situations, from going on an uneventful road trip or day hike, to getting lost in the woods, even to surviving a natural disaster!

You can find several good customer reviews on Amazon.  Here is some text from one of them: “It centers on a family separated during a massive earthquake to demonstrate how seemingly helpless situations can be dealt with resourcefully. I loved this book because it drove home the importance of taking personal responsibility for your own well-being when a big disaster strikes. We might never encounter being in the middle of a disaster, this book put me in the space of what it would be like. While reading the book I spent a lot of time thinking about our own situation: Knowing how to turn off the gas to our home, where we’d meet, food storage, warm clothes in the car, keeping the gas tank on full, etc.). There are many preparedness points that might later prove life preserving. I highly recommend this book as a basis for getting your just-in-case affairs in order. When there is nothing but self-reliance, we’d all best have some of these lessons under our belts.”

If you are looking for some good preparedness tips, are interested in how ham radio can be used in an emergency, like a good disaster adventure, or know another adult or young adult (written to be “family-friendly”) who may be, this ham radio fiction book is for you!  It’s available in paperback and on Kindle (Note: it was $9.99 on Kindle, but it’s on sale during December for $0.99!).

Full disclosure:  I wrote this book! Of course it’s one of my favorites. 🙂

Ham Radio for Dummies – Not a Dumb Book

Ham Radio for Dummies
Ham Radio for Dummies

I’ll freely admit that I’m generally not a fan of the “… for Dummies” books.  I have found that they’re often big on filler and cute graphics, and light on useful data.  I have purchased a few, and later realized that I could have bought a half dozen other books that contained twice as much information, even at the beginner level.  However, Ham Radio for Dummies is an exception, and contains a lot of useful information.  I have referred to it more than once, especially when I was just getting started.  (Confession: Even after a few years messing around with ham radio, I still refer to it occasionally!)  H. Ward Silver is a recognized expert in the field, and has obviously ensured that his book isn’t full of noise (no pun intended :-)).  He did a great job laying out the basics in a way that a beginner can understand, even if he or she doesn’t have an electrical engineering degree.

When I looked back through the book again for the purpose of writing this mini-review, I was even more impressed than the first time I read it.  Not only is there a ton of information for the very beginner, there is also a ton of information for the experienced ham radio operator.  If you want to learn about different emergency communications organizations (e..g, ARES & RACES), there’s info on that.  Do you want to learn about digital modes you can use?  This serves as a great primer for that area too.  Or maybe you haven’t gotten licensed yet and are looking for an easy, common-sense, inexpensive approach to getting your license out of the way.  Ward does a great job of describing a variety of useful options, and will save you a lot of legwork and wasted time.

 What’s covered in Ham Radio for Dummies?

  • Part 1 – What is Ham Radio All About? — will get you acquaint with ham radio in general
  • Part 2 – Wading through the Licensing Process  — it’s easier than you think!
  • Part 3 – Hamming it Up – Making contact, using your radio in general, emergency communications and public service opportunities
  • Part 4 – Building and Operating a Station That Works — that’s right — setting up your own radio station, which is also easier than you think 🙂
  • Part 5 – The Part of Tens — nifty lists of ten items each — 10 secrets for beginners, secrets of masters, first station tips, easy ways to have fun on the radio, etc.
  • Part 6 – Appendixes — glossary, other listings, and a Morse code table

Ham Radio for Dummies is not for dummies.  If you’re interested in learning about ham radio, you will be wise to start with this book. 🙂

Happy reading!

The Definitive Amateur Radio Reference: ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications

ARRL 2014 Handbook for Radio Communications
ARRL 2014 Handbook for Radio Communications, from

My reference book Personal Emergency Communications is by no means an exhaustive “how to” when it comes to ham radio. There are 1300-page tomes on that subject. In fact, this is the definitive Amateur radio guide: the ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications. The handbook also comes with an e-book version with an attached DVD, so you can have a copy handy on your computer just in case.

Note (4/19/2014): If you weren’t aware, the ARRL Handbook is updated yearly. Since this was originally posted, the 2012, 2013 and 2014 editions have been published. As it turns out, the 2014 edition is the “Centennial Edition”, with 1320 pages and 5.5 lbs. of radio reference goodness, including all manner of brand new information and searchable CD-ROM . I haven’t purchased one of the latest versions, but I’m confident that the description ARRL provides is accurate.

Here is the link to the 2014 hardcover edition (currently lower cost than the paperback edition!).

Here is the link to the 2014 paperback edition.

From the ARRL description found here:

This 91st edition of The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications marks a milestone: the 2014 ARRL Centennial. For 100 years, ARRL has been at the forefront of promoting technical advancement and improvements in radio operating practices. And since 1926, The ARRL Handbook has defined the latest innovations in the field of applied electronics and communications. The Handbook is written by radio amateurs…for radio amateurs, experimenters, engineers and students.

This commemorative edition has been extensively updated and revised…

New Projects:

  • A one- or two-tube linear amp for beginning builders
  • VHF and UHF signal sources
  • QSK controllers for amplifiers (analog and digital)

New Information

  • MOSFET design for power amplifiers
  • Telemetry and navigation data including GPS
  • Oscillators and synthesizers
  • Current battery technology
  • The new Codec2 software for HF digital voice
  • New material on microwave techniques

Annual transceiver model review
CD-ROM Inside! Includes all of the fully searchable text and illustrations in the printed book, as well as expanded supplemental content, software, PC board templates and other support files.


ARRL Antenna Book: The Ultimate Reference for Amateur Radio Antennas, Transmission Lines and Propagation

ARRL Antenna Book
ARRL Antenna Book

If you are looking for an incredibly thorough antenna reference, the ARRL publishes one of those too, the ARRL Antenna Book: The Ultimate Reference for Amateur Radio Antennas, Transmission Lines, and Propagation. It’s very comprehensive (as its long title would indicate) and I’m not aware of anything more detailed or thorough when it comes to understanding antennas of many types. It describes almost any kind of antenna you can imagine (and probably many you wouldn’t), with building guides and specifications for many types of antenna projects.

Update (4/19/2014) I have referred to this book several times over the years. But since I’m not an electrical engineer, I’ve usually spent more time referring to less meaty books, for example, Low Profile Amateur Radio. That’s not to say you won’t find many uses for this reference. No ham radio library is complete without it! 🙂

Low Profile Amateur Radio – Save Yourself a Ton of Effort!

Low Profile Amateur Radio
Low Profile Amateur Radio

This is one of the best books I’ve read on ham radio, because it has saved me the most time and helped me understand the most, compared to other books in my ham radio library: Low Profile Amateur Radio: Operating a Ham Station from Almost Anywhere.

I can say honestly that if I had paid more attention to this book early on, I would have saved many hours of sweat and frustration. It’s full of simple antenna concepts that work well in emergency-type situations because they are often small, portable, and can easily be temporarily rigged. But at the same time, these same antennas would do very well in a permanent installation.  I recommend this book to anyone learning about antennas, especially if you want to save a ton of time and effort!

As opposed to some of the engineering-heavy amateur radio tomes available, I found this book to be lighthearted, easy-to-understand, and suitable for many beginners.

Chapter topics include: Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, Low-Profile HF Antennas, Disguised Antennas, Indoor Antennas, Operating Modes and Tips, Interference, Antenna Tuners, Transmitter Output Power, Low-Profile VHF/UHF Antennas, and Mobile Operating

  • Pay attention to this guy’s recommendations. He knows what he’s talking about.

(4/19/2014) I have sad news. It appears this book is out of print. While it’s still available on, my last searches show that it’s prohibitively expensive. Maybe this is where I need to think about focusing for my next book! 🙂

Strong recommendation: If you see this book for sale at an amateur radio convention or flea market, snatch it up!