In my opinion, the ultimate in radio communication is Amateur Radio, also known as Ham Radio. Ham isn’t an acronym,but an old-school term originally thought to have been derived from radio operators with poor or “ham-fisted” skills.It 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.
Amateur Radio is a doorway to the world, which 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!The real power of Amateur Radio is the ability to communicate over great distances during an emergency and gain important intel on what’s actually going on. There are a multitude of volunteers that broadcast important information via the airwaves as a public service during disasters. After 9/11 Ham Radio Operators played an important role in emergency communications. It’s prohibited to use Ham for commercial purposes and the only time you can receive compensation for operating a station is if you’re a teacher and you’re demonstrating Amateur Radio for students.
An FCC license is required to transmit on the amateur bands and 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 CW – 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, which is easily obtainable by answering at least 26 questions correctly from a 35 question written examination. Later advancements and the ability to operate on more Amateur Radio frequencies are made possible by obtaining the General Class or Extra Class License.
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. Click here for a comprehensive overview of the Amateur Radio frequency allocations.
How to Be a Ham
Obtaining your Technician Class Operator License is simple. All there is to it, is studying the proper question pool for the exam and finding a local testing location near you. Here’s how to take care of those two requirements quickly.
First, head to Amazon and purchase the book Technician Class by Gordon West. It’s a phenomenal resource and in addition to teaching you all about Amateur Radio, it has the question pool I mentioned above with all the right answers. Don’t think of it as a cheat guide though, it’s a study guide, pure and simple.
Next, study! Go through the book absorbing the information and working through the question pool and corresponding answers. There’s 426 of them (there aren’t any secret questions on the exam), but don’t let that intimidate you. There’s only 35 of them on the test, remember? You only need to answer 26 of them right, which is 74% of the questions. West estimates that it will take you about 30 days to go through the questions a few times for the information to stick.
Finally, head to the W5YI-VEC website and search your state for a local exam location. Find one near you and inquire about when the next test will occur. Simple!
Now you have the hard decision of figuring out which of these radio frequencies you want to use. There’s no right answer though, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Each usage will depend on your situation and what you want to achieve with your communication.