How to Be a Ham: An Introduction to Amateur Radio and Licensing
How to Be a Ham: An Introduction to Amateur Radio and Licensing
Amateur radio consists of a series of radio frequency bands designated internationally for public, non-commercial use. Various types of information can be transmitted over the bands, such as voice, video, and digital data.
A doorway to the world, amateur radio can be used to communicate with people both local and distant. Even off-planet communications are possible, as the astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS) maintain an amateur radio station!
Since the invention of radio, amateur operators — often referred to as hams — have been on the airwaves, constantly pushing the technology. Hams are responsible for not only many advances in radios themselves, but also in satellite communications (hams regularly launch their own satellites, called Orbiting Satellites Carrying Amateur Radio or OSCARs) and digital computers.
Why should I become a Ham?
Today, amateur radio is used for recreational communication as well as a public service to provide communications for communities, whether during an emergency or during a local event, such as a parade.
Here are some other exciting things you can do with a Ham License:
- Doorway to the world! Talk to people in foreign countries . . . DX’ing is a favorite activity of many hams.
- Talk to people both local & distant while driving to work or someone on those sleepless late nights!
- Public assistance by providing communications during emergencies, natural disasters, parades, bike races, marathons and other public events
- Help other people become hams . . . also called “Elmering”
- Hook your computer to your radio and communicate “computer-to-computer”
- Collect QSL cards. Collect cards from other hams, from all over the world
- Participate in radio contests or ARRL Field Day events
- Provide radio communication services to your local Civil Defense organization: ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service), RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service), FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)
- Aid members of the U.S. military by joining the Army, Air Force or Navy/Marine MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System)
- Participate in “Fox Hunts” or transmitter hunt games
- Receive weather satellites pictures
- Operate low power from remote locations: SOTA — Summits On The Air
- Build radios, antennas, direction-finding equipment
- Learn some electronics & radio theory
- Talk to astronauts in space!
- Use the moon to bounce signals to talk with people on Earth
- Experiment with Amateur TV (ATV), Slow-Scan TV (SSTV), or send still-frame pictures by facsimile
- Connect your ham radio to the public telephone system & call friends toll free . . . “auto-patching”
- Communicate through orbiting satellites
A license is required to transmit on the amateur bands. In the United States, licensing is handled by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). There are three different license classes, each of which award the operator with a variety of privileges across the radio frequency spectrum.
On February 23, 2007, the FCC eliminated Morse code testing. The Morse code requirement was a major stumbling block for many interested in amateur radio. While no longer required for licensing, Morse code (or continuous wave) remains an interesting and effective mode of communication by many amateur radio operators.
New amateur radio operators typically enter the hobby by obtaining a Technician Class license, advancing later to the General Class or Extra Class. Volunteer Examiners prepare and administer written examinations from published question pools publicly available. Helpful study guides, training courses and online resources are widely available.
The privileges of a Technician Class operator license include operating an amateur station that may transmit on channels in any of 17 frequency bands above 50 MHz with up to 1,500 watts of power. Technician Class licensees also have privileges in four amateur service bands in the high-frequency range. To pass the Technician Class examination, at least 26 questions from a 35 question written examination must be answered correctly.
The General Class operator license authorizes privileges in all 27 amateur service bands. In addition to the above written examination, the requirement for a General Class operator license includes answering correctly at least 26 questions on a 35 question written examination.
Operating privileges of an Extra Class operator license include additional spectrum in the high-frequency bands. In addition to the two above written examinations, the requirement for an Amateur Extra Class operator license includes correctly answering at least 37 questions on a 50 question written examination.
A First Station
A great place to start as a new amateur radio operator is with a dual band hand-held radio capable of operating on both the 70 centimeter and 2 meter bands. This will get you active on the local repeaters and nets, as well as the amateur satellites and the ISS.
Additionally, 2 meters and 70 centimeters are the bands used by local emergency radio services such as the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service and Community Emergency Response Teams. These radios are small, compact and very portable. They can be used with the standard rubber duck antenna, a magnet mount antenna on a vehicle, or a portable antenna with a coaxial cable feed line.
A hand-held 5-watt radio can be found used at very reasonable prices on eBay or the online QRZ Swap Meet.
Ultimately you will be tempted to get a base station, upgrade your license and start making long distance contacts. A great resource for setting up your first station can be found at Ham Universe.
The Amateur’s Code
(Adopted by the American Radio Relay League from the original written by Paul M. Segal, W9EEA, in 1928.)
The radio amateur is:
- Considerate, never knowingly operating in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others.
- Loyal, offering loyalty, encouragement and support to other amateurs, local clubs and the American Radio Relay League, through which Amateur Radio in the United States is represented nationally and internationally.
- Progressive, with knowledge abreast of science, a well built and efficient station, and operation beyond reproach.
- Friendly, with slow and patient operation when requested, friendly advice and counsel to the beginner, kindly assistance, co-operation and consideration for the interests of others. These are the hallmarks of the amateur spirit.
- Balanced, Radio is an avocation, never interfering with duties owed to family, job, school or community.
- Patriotic, with station and skill always ready for service to country and community.
First off, we’d like to sincerely thank USNERDOC for the contributing content in this article. If you haven’t ever checked out Doc’s YouTube Channel, head over right now! He has some great videos on Ham and even on communicating with the International Space Station!
With this article information, Doc also send over this PDF document for download. It will provide you with the information from this article as well as a great list of links and resources you can use to expand your Ham knowledge.