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Listen to HAM Radio Without a HAM Transmitter

By Z. Perry

Associated Content - Denver, CO

Many people take an interest in listening to amateur (HAM) radio communications but would rather not spend the money for an expensive HAM transmitter. People who are considering to purchase a HAM transmitter and apply for a license might also want to listen to amateur radio first before deciding if it is worth becoming involved in. The solution to this is to purchase an inexpensive multiband, shortwave, or police scanner radio capable of receiving amateur radio bands.

However, not all receivers of these types cover the HAM bands, and some can receive more than others. Most radios and scanners capable of receiving amateur radio don't advertise this on their boxes, and some may not even mention it in their manuals, so you will need to become familiar with the band names and frequencies which contain HAM radio communications.

The upper VHF HAM band is most commonly included on inexpensive multiband and shortwave radio receivers, and popular with HAM operators. It is preferable if the receiver has a squelch control for this band, as this will allow you to shut off annoying static noise in between communications. This band is located in the 144-148 MHz frequency range, which is included in a band which may be referred to as "PB", "VHF Marine", "PB2", "PS" or "VHF-HI" on different radios. Some police scanners also cover this band, such as the Radio Shack PRO-2018. The Montgomery Ward Airline GEN-1476A multiband radio is very good for listening to this band (good reception and squelch control), and the Radio Shack 12-456 is fairly good (no squelch control, but static isn't too loud), while the Radio Shack 12-795 is poor for listening to it because there is no squelch control and loud static in between communications.

A number of amateur radio bands are located within the shortwave band (1.8MHz-30MHz). You are more likely to receive these on radios with one or more long stretches of frequency coverage, rather than several short non-contigous shortwave bands. Most police scanners don't cover any shortwave or only a small upper portion of it. A fairly expensive shortwave radio is needed to hear all types of SW amateur radio and communications. Many shortwave receivers (those without BFO/SSB/USB/LSB/etc. capabilities) are designed for listening to broadcasters, not amateur radio, in that they only receive shortwave in AM broadcast mode. Still, some amateur transmitters use this mode, so you can occasionally hear them on less expensive radios of this type (Realistic SW-100, Radio Shack 12-795, WorldStar MG-series, etc.)

Another HAM band is located from 50-54MHz VHF. This is less commonly covered by multiband receivers, but is on some scanners like the Uniden Bearcat BC-248CLT. Two other HAM bands are located in UHF from 222-225MHz and 420-450MHz. Some UHF-capable scanners and multiband receivers with UHF can tune these bands. However, not every radio with a UHF band can receive them; the Realistic Patrolman CB-60's UHF band, for example, is from 450-512 MHz.

Overall, it would be rather expensive and difficult to find a radio which can receive all of the amateur bands, but you should be able to listen to at least one HAM band without spending any more than $50 (used). If it interests you, then you might consider purchasing a more expensive receiver which covers more HAM bands and/or a transmitter.

After purchasing a suitable receiver, you will want to attempt tuning in a HAM radio conversation. First, you will want to select an appropriate band. The upper VHF (2-meter) band from 144-148 is a good place to start, as it is easy to find and fairly well-used. Then, if you have a scanner or other receiver with digital scanning capabilities, you can have it automatically scan for HAM communications. If it is analog, you will want to sweep back and forth across the correct frequency range with the tuning knob, and stop if you hear anything. If not, repeat this every few hours or days and you will probably come across a conversation sooner or later. After successfully tuning in a conversation, turn on your radio's squelch control if it has one, to prevent bursts of static noise in between transmissions. After the conversation has ended, you may want to leave the receiver on the same frequency (or write it down, if it is digital) and check the frequency again later. You can even turn on the squelch control and leave the radio on until the next conversation occurs.