Once you've passed the Novice test and decided how you want to equip your station, there are some general points to keep in mind when setting up your gear:Skip to next paragraph
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* Safety: There should be plenty of electrical outlets, preferably the three-prong grounded outlets. If the room has few outlets, use a commercially made outlet strip at the operating table rather than a nest of extension cord, to bring electricity to your equipment. Parts or circuits carrying any form of electrical current, whether DC, AC, or radio frequency, should be covered to prevent shocks. The voltage and current levels in many pieces of radio equipment are dangerous.
All equipment, from the code key to the transmitter, should be connected to a good ground as a precaution against shocks: Ideally, the equipment should be connected to one or more six-foot ground rods driven into the earth. Use heavy gauge copper wire or strips of copper flashing to make the connections. Short of that, connection to a cold-water pipe will suffice.
Antennas should never be erected near utility power lines, nor should they be erected when a thunderstorm is nearby. To the extent possible, route the antenna transmission line so that it's out of the reach of passersby. The line should have either a lightning arrester or a switch that will let you disconnect your radios and ground the antenna lead when a thunderstorm approaches.
* Location in the home: Try to set up the station in a relatively secluded part of your home. This way, you won't disturb others, and they won't disturb you. One good location is in a basement or ground-floor room. These places afford easy access to an earth ''ground.'' Another alternative is an attic: It's closer to the antenna, so the transmission line can be kept short, but it's also farther from an acceptable grounding point.
* The operating table: The chief concern here is operator comfort. Equipment should be placed on a shelf high enough so that the tuning dials or displays are at eye level. And there should be enough room to rest your entire forearm on the table when using the telegraph key. There should be plenty of drawer space to store paper, pencils, and station logbooks, which you'll use to record your station activities. One possibility is to use an unfinished door supported at each end by filing cabinets (used ones, if you're a good bargain hunter).
Once your Novice license has arrived and your equiment is hooked up, it's time for the moment of truth: your first contact.
''My first contact? It was kind of exciting and rather scary, confusing. I had trouble figuring out what they were saying and what I was supposed to say,'' says Stephen K. Sorton, KA0GFA. ''But once you make a few contacts, it gets exciting!''
Stephen, whose father has been an amateur radio operator for 27 years, earned his Novice license in 1979 at the age of 12. He upgraded to General class last July.
''My hands were shaking, I didn't know I could do it,'' says Tobi Fisher (KA9 MMY). ''My first few contacts, I told them I was new. They gave me a lot of encouragement.''
That's a key point: Don't hesitate to tell other stations you're a newcomer. If the other station is sending code too fast, ask the operator to slow down. It's a more effective way to keep the contact going than if you tell the other station you missed the transmission because of static or interference. This forces the other operator to repeat information - probably at the same speed used before.
Mrs. Fisher adds that it's helpful to have an experienced ham with you the first time you go on the air. In her case, her husband Gary (K9WZB) coached her along.