I have no affiliation with Mike and Key, but in my opinion this is the best electronics swap meet in the greater Seattle area. I go every year. (If you know of others, post in the comments!)
The Mike and Key flea market will take place on Saturday, March 10th at the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup. Doors open at 9AM (earlier for sellers). I’m looking forward to meeting other PNW electronics and ham radio folks there. I have a seller table again this year so I should be pretty easy to find. I’ll be selling a few kits along with ham radio gear and miscellaneous electronics.
Mike and Key hosts ham radio exams during the swap meet, so if you’re interested in getting a ham radio license this is one opportunity. More details on the event flyer.
This is one of the best amateur radio events in Washington state and one that I look forward to every year. A couple years ago I came home with a working Hameg HM-507 analog+digital oscilloscope (pictured above) for a hundred bucks!
I have a table at the swap meet this year, and I’ll be selling Geiger counter kits, misc. electronics, and amateur radio gear. Look for the MightyOhm banner.
I was an undergraduate at the time. My friend and classmate Tony (KC6QHP) had been trying to convince me to get my ham license for months.
I finally decided to go for it over winter break. I picked up a copy of Now You’re Talking! from a local bookstore (remember those?) and crammed for a week. I took the test the following weekend and passed with a perfect score, 35/35. (The morse code requirement for the Technician license was eliminated in 1991.)
That Christmas I got a Kenwood TH-79A/D, a very modern-looking radio at the time. (I still think it looks great, but it has aged poorly, the controls are scratchy and the battery becomes disconnected easily.) I nervously waited for my new call sign to show up in the FCC database. (This was before the ULS existed, but there was a website where you could see the call signs that were issued each day.)
Imagine my horror when on December 31st my name came up listed next to the call
What’s wrong with that, you say? Sound it out. K F 6 P B P. Imagine trying to make a contact on the air with that call. PBB? BPP? PPP? I have even had operators struggle with the phonetic version (Papa Papa Bravo? No, Papa Bravo Papa. Easy, right? Wrong.) I remember some old-timers trying to console me when I first got my license by coming up with clever mnemonics such as “Peanut Butter Pretzels”, which I still chuckle at.
Admittedly, my frustration level has always been kept in check by the fact that I have never been very active on the air, and most of the contacts I have made have been with friends who had memorized my callsign anyway.
This year, after having the callsign KF6PBP for over 13 years, I finally decided to do something about it. I applied for a vanity call sign.
But which call to apply for? I’m an Amateur Extra now (I tested for General and AE in 2009 and 2010, respectively), so I could have tried to get one of the much-fought over 1×2 or 2×1 callsigns (like K6RF, W6TC, etc). I didn’t see any that were worth fighting (and waiting) for. So, I decided to take a different approach and searched for an easy-to-get 1×3 callsign that reflected my personality or interests. I found a few that I liked and narrowed them down to 2 candidates (one favorite and a backup in case someone else applied for the same call and I didn’t get it).
As luck would have it, I got my first choice. Last night, I was granted the new call sign
It feels a little bit weird to be saying goodbye to the call sign I’ve held for so long, but I’m looking forward to operating with my new call with fewer corrections. (The phonetic version has a nice ring to it – Whiskey 6 Oscar Hotel Mike.)
I’m getting back into amateur radio these days, so expect to see more posts on the subject. Maybe I’ll even get to chat with some readers of the blog on the air?
A “Ham Cram” is a one day workshop where you can get your ham radio license (usually the Technician level) without studying in advance. I’m not sure I completely agree with their methods of blind memorization over actually understanding the rules, but apparently this method works and most people pass on their first attempt. If you’re short on time and want to get your license in a hurry, this is one option.
Thanks to Robert for the heads-up on the January session.
AERO is another SF-based group that regularly posts flyers advertising their own ham cram sessions. Their most recent poster is outdated, but the site mentions there will likely be an upcoming session in February 2010. I just took the General license exam at their November session and was really impressed by how many people were there and how professionally run the event was.
Update: Their next session is on February 7th, 2010 at 8:45AM. Details here.
Studying the old fashioned way:
If you don’t like the “cram” method, you can always pick up a study guide (Technician, General, Extra Class) and spend a few weeks studying for the test like I did for both my Technician and General license exams. There are even a couple online practice tests to help you study. When you feel comfortable with the material, you can take the exam at the sessions above for a $14 VEC fee without doing the cram. I know AERO allows this, but it would probably be a good idea to check and make sure BAERS permits this as well. In either case, I recommend that you RSVP to ensure you get a seat and get notification about changes to the venue, etc. Contact info for each group is on their respective websites.