What is this funny-looking group of letters with the seven? NW7US -- what does that mean?
NW7US is a callsign, assigned by the Federal Communications Commission, to me. I'm Tomas David Hood. I am a Radio Amateur.
What is a Callsign?
In broadcasting, like FM or AM radio broadcasting, or even TV station broadcasting, but in any radio communications, a call sign (also known as a callsign, call name, call letters, or abbreviated as a 'call') is a unique designation for a transmitting station. In some countries these callsigns are used as names for broadcasting stations. In this case, the callsign, 'NW7US' refers to an Amateur Radio operator and station, owned and operated by Tomas David Hood. Yes, that is me; I am Tomas.
What is Amateur Radio?
Amateur radio, also known as 'ham radio', is both a hobby and a service in which radio enthusiasts called "hams" use various types of radio communications equipment to communicate with other radio amateurs for public services, recreation and self-training. They use many different types of communication techniques (modes), from Morse code, to a wide variety of data and voice as well as video modes.
The hobby is practiced by an enthusiast who is not paid for this activity. The hobbyist may build communications equipment, antennas, and supporting electronics, or use already-made units, to communicate world-wide or just across town by two-way radios, satellites, or shortwave radio frequencies. They enjoy making new friends without the need for telephone or internet connections.
Ham radio takes place in a range of frequencies designated for amateur use by the FCC (in the United States of America) from just above the AM broadcast band (1.6 MHz) to the microwave region, at several hundred gigahertz.
Amateur Radio exists around the entire world, with licensed operators in nearly all countries. It is a truly world-wide hobby and service.
NW7US is the Amateur Radio callsign issued by the Federal Communications Commission to my Ham Radio Station, conferring the right to operate this equipment under certain privileges. This callsign is assigned to me as both an identification of my Amateur Radio station, as well as a reference to those privileges I have been granted after having passed both a series of written examinations which cover rules, procedures, technical theory, and related knowledge, and a series of Morse code proficiency tests. (Note: Morse code proficiency is no longer required as an element of the FCC test; you no longer need to learn and demonstrate knowledge of Morse code in order to obtain an FCC Amateur Radio license. However, Morse code is becoming very popular among Amateur Radio.).
Why is Tomas an Amateur Radio Operator?
I enjoy having two-way communications by way of shortwave radio signals, in the Amateur Radio hobby. The Shortwave bands are in the High Frequency radio spectrum.
I was born back in 1965 (in Virginia) and I'm 45. I was first licensed in 1990, though I have been a real high-frequency fan since the early 1970s when I discovered Shortwave Radio. I loved hearing the foriegn stations. Using HF is like travelling without leaving home. I love meeting new folks.
My radio interest started when I was a young boy. Around the age of nine, I discovered Shortwave Radio Listening ( see my shortwave page at http://swl.hfradio.org ). I had discovered my parents' Sony portable radio that had four bands; Shortwave, Longwave, FM, and AM. (I've recently obtained a used replacement for this long-lost radio from my childhood! I found it at a Ham Fest. What joy!)
Amazing sounds and exotic stations struck my fancy as I tuned around on the dial. Soon, I found myself listening to the time signals on WWV, news broadcasts from the BBC, and cultural shows from Radio South Africa, Radio Canada International, HCJB, and Radio Australia. These were just a few of the International Shortwave Broadcast stations that captured my imagination. I felt that I was traveling the world, without leaving my backyard.
I was particularly fascinated by WWV's hourly propagation bulletin. I sat listening with rapt attention and great imagination, while thinking of Skylab and space, and radio waves. This was my first exposure to the concept of sunspots, space weather, and the variability of radio wave propagation on shortwave radio.
I began to look for books on electronics and radio (tubes, electricity, and that sort of thing). My folks bought electronic kits for me to build (remember back to when Radio Shack still sold electronic kits and was supportive to the home-builder of electronics?). I built a simple AM transmitter kit, and a VHF receiver kit that enabled me to hear Air Traffic from the local airport. Listening to Northwest Orient pilots talking with the control tower, or hearing South Africa on that Sony portable radio, catapulted me into a world of ideas and possibilities.
As I entered Junior High School, I acquired a military surplus shortwave receiver. Late at night when I was supposed to be sleeping, my bedroom would be lit with the glow of warm orange light from the tubes in the heart of the radio. I heard signals from all over the world, some of them seemed to flow into my room with ease from the dipole antenna that I hid around the eaves of the house. Even AM Broadcast-band DXing was exciting. I remember hearing stations from South America, such as a station from Peru.
While I served in the United States Army, stationed in Europe, I would stay tuned to the world by using any receiver I could find. An example of my obsession would be from times when I was deployed to tactical communications sites ‘in the field.’ When I was not on duty, and not asleep, I would sneak into backup communications shelters (tactical units sitting on a truck, kind of like those campers on the back of a pickup truck), and fire up military communications gear so I could listen to my news from the BBC, or a show from Trans World Radio in Monte Carlo.
My service to the country was as an Army communicator, in the signal corps. I worked in HF, as well as Troposcatter, Microwave, and satellite communications. I also worked a great deal with computers.
But it was not until after my tour with the Military that I finally became a licensed Radio Amateur. After leaving the Army, I met a group of Amateur Radio operators who encouraged me to get my license. They gave me the Novice test, one day, in a very crowded cafeteria at work (The Travelers, in Hartford, Connecticut, where I worked as a programmer/analyst). I was not only required to receive the Morse code, but also to send a text that they provided out of a technical manual.
I passed the test! I lost no time in setting up my station (a random wire of about 200 feet along with an old Kenwood transceiver and an old Navy Key), and waited for my official “Ham Ticket” from the FCC to arrive in the mail, so I could transmit. I would listen, practicing my ability to receive CW. Night after night, I would sit and try to head-copy CW. (Head copy means to decode the CW in your head, rather than write it down).
One day, when I arrived home after work, I opened the mail box and found the envelope from the FCC! The license finally arrived. Now I could not only listen, but, could communicate all over the world. Sure, as a Novice, I was only allowed to communicate in CW, but I was more than proud to do just that! I felt all of the history and was filled with pride that I could use CW, too.
The problem, however, was that I am human. During my first CW QSO, I forgot my name, English, and Morse code. I was sweating! But, slowly, I found my mind again, and began having a great QSO.
I did a lot of Morse code operation during the first months, and continued using CW but also discovered the world on 10 meters. What a band! The propagation was worldwide during the last part of a great solar cycle. The excitement of talking with people from so many locations was never higher than during those first 12 months. Now, I could really travel the world without leaving home. To perhaps learn just a little bit more about cultures and places outside of my little world.
I upgraded to Amateur Extra about seven or so years after my first license. I desired to work DX, and changed my call to NW7US.