Today, I listened in on the activity from the 2015 2-meter QSO party in San Francisco. In amateur radio operator ("ham radio") speak, a QSO party is a contest for operators to see how many contacts they can make in a given time. In this case, contestants had from 1200 to 1800 PDT to make contact with other hams and try to score as many points as they can.
I'm still studying to take the exam for my Technician class license, so I only listened while everyone else introduced themselves and chatted about everything from radio gear and operating tips to movies and the weather. "Technician" class is the first level of three operator classes for which the FCC issues licenses, the others being "General" and "Amateur Extra," so I'm completely new to this.
Around noon, I took to my building's roof and set up at a patio table, giving me an easy time receiving the transmissions going around, and an equally nice spot to enjoy the warm weather. I scanned the frequencies that the SF Radio Club suggested for use during the contest, and my radio stopped when it detected anything other than the usual noise. It wasn't much work for me to listen in on operators from around the Bay Area "working" their new contacts, as they say.
To keep me busy and to get used to listening for callsigns, I wrote down every one I heard. I don't have a callsign yet as I don't have a license. The FCC assigns one to you when you become licensed, and after that you can trade for a vanity call sign (like a vanity license plate) if you want.
I learned a lot just listening to hams participating in the contest, but I also got curious and scanned around other frequencies to see what I could find. It was pretty exciting to find that SFO Air Traffic Control operates on several frequencies for coordinating with aircraft on the ground and in the air, approaching and departing.
I spent most of the time I checked out KSFO frequencies on 135.650—"NORCAL Approach (Woodside Sector, SFO 28L Final)." I also downloaded FlightRadar24 and watched the aircraft I heard on the radio live on a map as they descended to SFO airport.
This was my first day using my Yaesu FT-60R—or any FM transceiver, for that matter. It reminded me a lot of the time I'd spent running around the woods and my neighborhood as a kid, using walkie talkies to communicate with my friends. But once I get my license, a lot more is possible. I'll be prepared to use my radio in the event of a natural disaster where cell phones aren't a viable option, and for fun I can talk to people in my city, state, across the country, around the world, and even on the International Space Station (ARISS). I can't wait.