Archive for the ‘young hams’ Category

Radio Games (

In HamRadioNow Episode 178 (Radio Games, embedded below), my partner Jeff AC4ZO and I banter about the concept of “rebranding” ham radio contests to make them more attractive to young people. My suggestion is to call them Radio Games, an allusion to Video Games, of course, which attract young people like crazy.

About this point in this article, I’d be disappointed if a few of you readers didn’t go nonlinear, considering this idea to be:

  1. fully baked, and
  2. the end of Amateur Radio as we know it

So if you actually watch the show, you realize that the idea isn’t even half-baked. It hasn’t even hit the oven. It’s fodder for a TV show conversation (makes a good radio show if you just want to listen to it) listen to it

And you’ll notice we wander around the point so much that you may think we’ll never actually make it. But we do. Then it’s off to other stuff. Some of you will like it, some of you will hate it, and that’s show biz.

But while the idea is far from mature, I’m serious about it in some fashion.

I think there’s little argument that we need to attract many more young people to ham radio, people in their teens, twenties and thirties. And I think what what attracted us old farts (I’m 65, and in a couple weeks I’ll hit my 50th year of hamming) isn’t attracting young people today. Not many, anyway. Something about ham radio has to change.

I don’t know what that is. Nobody knows for sure, or we’d be doing it (and once again leading us all to the End of Amateur Radio As We Know It). But for sure it’s not One Thing. It’ll be a lot of things, some little and some big.

One of those things might be figuring out how to make ham radio interesting to some of the people who love video games. They’re mostly young. Many have an interest in technology. And if we got just a small fraction of them, we’re still talking about thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Our contests are a starting point. Just changing the name to (or adding the name) Radio Games isn’t going to fool anyone. But it seems to me that integrating the elements of radio that we know – the vagaries of propagation, the competition for contacts, the reality of having to make something work with your own hardware and skill – to the aspects of video games that they know, might be an interesting mix.

For me, this is just fodder for my TV show and a column here on I’m sure not going to be the one doing it. I’m not a contester beyond making a few random contacts now and then, and I’m not a gamer. Which just may mean I don’t know what I’m talking about, and that wouldn’t be front page news, either.

But it is something to think about, maybe to talk about. First-class video games are multi-hundred-million dollar epics. The biggest probably involve more money than all of ham radio worldwide. They blow Hollywood out of the water. But a Ham Radio themed game doesn’t have to be the biggest and best. I guess I’d just hope that if someone develops one, it isn’t lame. But everybody’s a critic, and no matter how good it is, someone will call it lame. So I’m not going to worry about it.

Here’s the show. The most perceptive (or maybe just cynical) among you will recognize this column as just an excuse to get people to watch the show. You’d be right. And… sorry about the distorted audio. I did figure out what was happening.*

73, Gary KN4AQ

*What was happening to the audio? Google’s Chrome browser was grabbing the Windows Record Level setting and cranking it up so it could hear me say “OK Google” to initiate a voice search. That happened ever time I opened a tab with Google’s search page in it (and that’s where new tabs defaulted, so if it happened a lot). Later, I found a setting to turn “OK Google” off, but not one to tell Google to leave my audio alone, period. If I initiate a Google Hangout,  Google grabs it again. Grrr.

Learning Morse code? Want to increase your skill?

Are you looking for some aids on learning Morse code, or to increase speed and skill? Let’s look at some great information and some software aimed at making your efforts successful.

(Note: I am not associated with any of the software. I just want to help you…)

I encourage you to look at the time-proven Koch method of learning Morse code. Below, we’ll look a little closer at this method of learning and honing your Morse code skill.  In the meantime, if you just wish to skip the details, here are some software links for learning tools using the Koch method:

+ For the PC, I prefer the G4FON Morse code ‘Koch Trainer. It is a slick program that is set up to help you learn and enhance your skills with Morse code: – and his web site is at:

G4FON Koch Trainer - Morse code learning on the PC

G4FON Koch Trainer – Morse code learning on the PC

+ For the iPad and iPhone: On these devices, I use the ‘Koch Trainer’ by Nick / N3WG, found in the store here:

+ For the Android: I use the same software as for the iPad and iPhone, the ‘Koch Trainer’ by Nick / N3WG, here: – however, note that it is not compatible on the S4.

+ Some other Android possibilities that I have not tried:

Again, I have not tried those last few.

Now, let’s talk about the Koch Method of Morse code training!

From my page on the Koch method (text was used by permission from the author):

Koch’s method is a simple, direct way of building reflexes. However, it requires either a computer and Morse software or a personal trainer. That’s why it was overlooked for so many years. Now that computers are commonplace, it should become the standard Morse training method. Here’s how it works:

You start out by setting up your computer (or a microprocessor-based code tutor machine) to send you Morse characters at 20 wpm and at an overall sending speed of at least 15 wpm. You then get out your paper and pencil and have the machine start sending — but only two characters. That’s right, for your first sessions, you’ll only have two choices. Copy on paper for five minutes, then stop the machine and compare what you copied with what the machine sent. Count characters and calculate your percentage of correct copy.

If your score is 90 percent or better — congratulations! You just learned your first two characters, and, importantly, you learned them at full speed. You’ll never have to learn them over again. If you didn’t make 90 percent, practice some more. As soon as you can copy the first two characters with 90 percent accuracy, add a third character to your practice. Your accuracy will drop as you work on assimilating the new character, but it will rise again to 90 percent or better. Then you add the fourth character, and so on.

This method does not allow you to build that lookup table in your brain. To copy at full speed, you must build the reflexes in order to achieve 90 percent accuracy. And that’s what you’re spending your time doing — building reflexes. Think of it as a parallel to perfecting a tennis swing or mastering a gymnastic routine; you’re practicing until you get it right. The Koch method of building code proficiency character-by-character is similar to standard methods of teaching touch typing, another skill that must be reflexive.

While the Koch method is the fastest method of Morse training, speed alone is not its principal advantage. Its principal advantage, and a major difference from other methods, is that it provides you with constant positive reinforcement. This begins with your realization, after mastering the first two characters, that you can copy code at 15 or 20 wpm, because you just did it. After that, each new character mastered is further proof of your progress. Contrast that to slowly trying to build speed up from 4 or 5 wpm, then hitting the plateau at 10 wpm and seeing no progress for a long time. With the Koch method, frustration is at a minimum.

Constant testing is necessary to ensure that you maximize the effectiveness of the Koch method. You must copy on paper, so you can grade yourself. Remember, if you score 90 percent accuracy or better, add another character. If you score any less than that, try again. By constantly testing yourself on continuous copying of at least five minutes, you know exactly how you’re doing and exactly when you should add another character. This results in the fastest progress possible.

As you proceed toward your goal, remember that some days are just going to be better than others and some characters will take longer to assimilate than others.

(Read the entire article: the Koch method).

Again, here’s the PC software link:

And, here’s a web-based way to learn Morse code.

Good luck! If you have questions, please share them – I’m @NW7US

HamRadioNow: Meet Joe Ham…

I just put HamRadioNow episode 143 on-line. It’s mostly a conversation I had yesterday with… Joe Ham. OK, really Joe Hamm KC1BAQ. Joe’s sort of a new ham, sort of a young ham. He’s 35, and a boomerang, having been licensed in college, but letting it go when it didn’t really ignite a spark.

So now he’s back. He’s a EE, so what attracted this young engineer back to ham radio? And what will keep him?

Off Topic – Going back to College

I was sitting in our Board Meeting for the NI4CE repeater system – and realized that I have not been playing radio in quite some time. There is more than one reason. I have been extremely busy at work and due to that I have had no time for anything else.


One of those other life factors besides work, kids, family, and other hobbies is school. For many of you this might sound odd, but for others you will completely understand.


At this point in my life, even though I have been in computer industry for over 25 years, I have never had a college degree. My wife was starting her MBA and I said with her going to be taking on the stress and challenge of that maybe it’s something I should consider. I looked into what my company would help pay for, I looked into the time commitments, and I landed on University of Phoenix.


Online works great for me – I am a computer geek and live online. I thought this would be a great time in life and then I would finally not be the only person around the table that couldn’t talk about having their degree. It was just something that always has been in the back of my mind.


Well, I started and finished week 1 with all A’s in my two classes and I’m on my way. I understand that this isn’t Ham Radio specific but if you ever read my story about how Ham Radio helped put me on a better path you will understand why this ties back together. Ham Radio helped me get my 15-year-old head on straight; many people in the hobby-helped push me into computers. I have worked for one of the largest software companies for the last 18 years and been pretty lucky to still know the two guys that did it.


I am sure my story of going back and getting my college education will bring more bliss to a great story they had impact on.


I won’t post all of my weeks progress, but I thought I would start with week one:


I am still active on the Board of Directors for NI4CE and I am going to do my best to get back into radio further. I promise J for not if you want to find me it will most likely be in the library.

OK, OK! I Will Write that Ham Radio Book!

Ever since I began writing articles about my hobby of choice–amateur or “ham” radio–for my ham radio web site and several others, people have been asking me when I was going to do an amateur radio book.  The truth is, I have just been too darn busy to even think of such a thing. And I also knew, in my heart of hearts, that it be would difficult indeed to get any kind of decent book contract for such a niche book.  I presented my idea of a half-fiction/half-nonfiction book to the ARRL and they passed, so that confirmed my feelings. If they had no interest, I doubted anyone else who published books would either.

Fast-forward to July 2012.  Things have changed, both in my personal life and in the wild and woolly world of big-time book publishing.

Riding the Shortwaves: Exploring the Magic of Amateur Radio by Don Keith N4KC

Don Keith N4KC has just published his new book of short stories, articles, advice, and more about ham radio.

First, I retired from my 60-hour-a-week day job back in May.  And as I shuffled through the articles I had in the can, several more I was working on, and a few still in my head, I realized I was closer to a book than I had thought.  And I truly believed I had something that would be different and could find a readership.


Secondly, as I investigated Kindle Direct Publishing at for the re-issue of a couple of my previous now-out-of-print books, I realized that I should absolutely pull the ham radio book together for that outlet–Kindle and some other e-book readers–at least.  Amazon has become a real threat to traditional publishing companies–especially when it comes to e-books–as the old-line publishing houses struggle to figure this newfangled thing out.  At the very least, it gives me the opportunity to make my book available at a very reasonable price to those interested in amateur radio.  No, I don’t make much money at the price I set, even if I actually sell some downloads of the book, but that is not really the object anyway.  As I have said many times, and not totally facetiously, if I wanted to make a fortune writing books, I would write pornography (See FIFTY SHADES OF GREY).

Then, as I considered other options, I realized that Amazon offers a truly unique opportunity for works like this one that allows me to offer the book in a traditional paperback format with minimal investment up front.  Remember, I’m retired, on a fixed income these days!  Amazon’s is a print-on-demand deal, but they seem to have it down to a science.  I ordered some copies as soon as I got the book and cover uploaded and accepted for publication.  The very next day I got the email that they were being shipped that day. Wow!

Again, this was with very little upfront cost and minimal hassle.  Now, the paperback will be available not only via, but through major distributors, for order by libraries, and even in many European markets. We will see how good the print job is, but believe me on this: the major houses don’t necessarily produce the highest quality book any more either.  They have to cut where they can to make a profit and printing, binding, and warehousing is a big drain on them.

Talk about rapid technological change and its effect on society and the media!  Broadcast radio, TV, the Internet and telephone communications are not the only things evolving at a dizzying pace.  Include the anachronistic business of book publishing in that mix, too!

Realistically, will tons of booksellers and all the Barnes & Noble stores order a box full of the books each?  Or will hundreds of thousands of libraries order up a couple dozen copies each?  Of course not.  The big publishers do have sales staff to encourage that sort of thing. But a) no big publishing house was going to do a contract for RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO and b) even if they did, it would be somewhere near the bottom of the sales staff’s sample case, so c) Amazon’s various self-publishing options are perfect for this kind of book.

By the way, if you have any interest in the dynamic and rapidly growing hobby of ham radio–believe me, it ain’t your weird uncle’s past-time any more!–then you may want to stop by and take a look “Inside the Book,” read the description, and maybe buy a copy or two…for yourself or someone you know and want to spark the interest in our amazing hobby.

See, right there in that last sentence, I did more publicity for RIDING THE SHORTWAVES than the big publishers do for most of the books they print up and ship out!


Don Keith N4KC 


Subscribe FREE to's
Amateur Radio Newsletter

We never share your e-mail address.

Do you like to write?
Interesting project to share?
Helpful tips and ideas for other hams?

Submit an article and we will review it for publication on!

Have a ham radio product or service?
Consider advertising on our site.

Are you a reporter covering ham radio?
Find ham radio experts for your story.

How to Set Up a Ham Radio Blog
Get started in less than 15 minutes!

  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor

Sign up for our free
Amateur Radio Newsletter

Enter your e-mail address: