Youth@HamRadio.Fun: Back to School
By Sterling Coffey, N0SSC
ARRL Youth Editor
The sounds of cicadas buzzing in the trees herald the fast approaching school year. Every summer seems to go by so quickly in conformance to the old adage: “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
To most school-bound youths, fun can be as simple as doing nothing, taking a break from schoolwork and social drama. Or it’s a time for video gaming, staying up all night, going traveling or hamming it up. But that time has passed once again and it’s time to hit the books, the study room and again feel what it’s like to procrastinate for too long.
For most of the summer, I stayed in Rolla, Missouri to work at Electrical Engineering summer camps at Missouri S&T, as well as attempt to improve the S&T Amateur Radio Club’s ham shack. Before the summer, the 15×20 feet room was shared with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (or just IEEE) storage room where they had a desk, refrigerator and many boxes holding brochures, membership letters and shirts for their meetings, taking up about a quarter of the room. The ham shack was about to burst with all the stuff filled the room -- three desks, a couch, eight different shelves -- and tons of radio equipment, both modern and vintage. But after careful “nudging” by the members of the radio club (which involved me becoming an officer of IEEE), they found another room on the same floor of the Electrical Engineering building and we can finally expand!
Over the summer, I completely gutted the ham shack in an attempt to get everything out of the room so we could put it all back into its proper place. We slid shelves and a fireproof file cabinet weighing almost 500 pounds against the wall. The couch slid against the back wall, and suddenly we were surprised at how much floor space was available to us. Cramped meetings are a thing of the past as we now can place a table in the middle of a room and still have seating for 10.
The next part is still a work in progress. All the small things -- antennas, CW keys, tuners, VHF radios, microphones, computers, soldering irons, pens, pencils and staplers -- have to find their place. We also removed many old and oxidized antennas, boxes and packaging from above the drop ceiling, so currently the floor is littered with boxes, chairs, cables and such.
The cicadas laugh as they see I’ve run out of time to clean the ham shack. This year, a 14 credit-hour class load -- along with three officer positions and a research job -- will be a test of time management for working on the S&T radio clubroom. Many things are on the agenda this year once again as we are hoping to get a beam on the tower and a remote HF station at my nearby apartment to avoid the electrical noise of the EE building on the lower HF bands.
For any school, fall is a great time to begin a new radio club. Before classes become a significant undertaking, those at college can use the budding atmosphere to garner interest in various clubs. At S&T, we have a street fair called MinerRAMA, which gives organizations an opportunity to show off their clubs to freshman and all the other students of the school. We will again be present, hoping to gather more members. If you have a radio club, it is your duty to show it off at events like these. If not, then this time is perfect for gathering interest -- make simple flyers and hand them out to students. To me, searching for members is a lot like fishing. Patience is necessary, as well as a lot of bait! (pssssssst -- for any college student, the bait of choice is free pizza).
For high school youths and under, the summer remains the best time to begin the hobby but don’t let that scare you -- I began learning about Amateur Radio the middle of my 10th grade fall semester. I spent language arts reading out of the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual and gradually made my way to my first license, KD0BZE, in November of 2007.
Fall is also great for contesting. The famous ARRL Sweepstakes takes place in November, where the objective is to contact all 83 ARRL and RAC Sections. Simultaneously the Collegiate Championship takes place, and all college Amateur Radio clubs are invited to compete for the most contacts. Stanford University, W6YX, are the guys to beat, with MIT’s W1MX and Kansas’s Hesston College’s K0HC close behind, all with scores near and above 200,000 points! Despite the high scores, the contesting atmosphere is quite relaxed so anybody can join in and have fun.
With school and extracurricular responsibilities, it’s important to remember that Amateur Radio is a hobby to be enjoyed in your free time. Don’t ever put ham radio before school or family duties and other things that are more important. Route your Amateur Radio activities around such events. For example, if a 48-hour contest is coming up and you want to operate for the full time, don’t expect to wake up early Sunday morning for church, or forget about the plans with your date -- girlfriends (and boyfriends, too!) tend to dislike ham radio when it gets in the way of relationships. You won’t believe me if I said my previous girlfriend and I began our relationship on Field Day weekend! You can bet that’s why we’re not together any longer (with no hard feelings)!
I march a thin line at times when I attempt to plan W0EEE activities around things like exams, lectures, class and party time, but I never forget the reason why I’m at S&T -- to learn, graduate and acquire a job. Although having a radio club on campus was a factor in the decision of which college I attended, it wasn’t -- and isn’t -- the reason why I chose S&T. I have made the mistake of involving myself too heavily in the radio club, which reflects in my GPA for that semester.
The moral of the story is to use your time wisely: The fall school semester is a great time to get started in the hobby, but always keep in mind what is more important!
--Sterling Coffey, N0SSC
Sterling Coffey, N0SSC, is a rising junior majoring in electrical engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. Interested in wireless communications from a young age, he welcomes e-mail from readers.