STARTING AMATEUR RADIO
HAM RADIO operators talk with one another from their home “shack”, from cars, while hiking or biking in the mountains, from remote campsites or even while flying or boating. Through a plethora of activities, hams learn a lot, establish lifelong friendships and, perhaps most important, have a lot of fun. Along the way, amateur radio operators often contribute some of the genius behind the latest technological innovations. In all likelihood, you’re already a ham or at least have experimented with radio and electronics.
As a community of communicators, Amateur Radio can be whatever you want it to be. Whether you are looking for relaxation, excitement, enjoyment or a way to stretch your mental (and physical) horizons, Amateur Radio can provide it — even for those with limited time and money constraints.
However it happens, communication between or among individuals is at the core of nearly all ham radio activities. In its most basic form, ham radio is two people saying “Hello!” to each other over the radio.
Although you no longer have to learn the Morse code to become an Amateur Radio licensee, you must have a license granted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate an Amateur Radio station in the United States, in any of its territories and possessions or from any vessel or aircraft registered in the US. There is no age requirement, nor do you have to be a citizen to obtain a US Amateur Radio license. Children as young as four and five have passed ham radio exams!
In the US, there are three classes — or levels — of Amateur Radio license. From the easiest to the most difficult, they are Technician, General and Amateur Extra class. You must only take and pass a written examination for each license. The higher you climb up the ladder, the more challenging the test and the more generous the privileges the FCC grants. To reach the top — Amateur Extra — you must pass the examinations for all three license classes.
This website’s Guru has an Amateur Extra Class license and a FCC First Class license with Radar Endorsement that authorizes him to install, repair and operate any transmitter on ships and boats or even Commercial Radio and TV stations. He also has an FAA license to install and repair commercial and private aircraft radios, radar and navigation electronics. So if you have any questions – this is the place to ask them on the contact page.
The “Tech ticket” is a great introduction to the fun and excitement of ham radio and to the ways of the hobby. The sole requirement for the Technician license is passing a 35-question written exam. It covers FCC rules and regulations that govern the airways, courteous operating procedures and techniques and some basic electronics. The privileges granted give Technicians plenty of room to explore and activities to try. For some, the Technician is the only ham license they’ll ever want or need. With your ham radio license in hand, you can meet new friends, win awards, exchange “QSL cards” to confirm radio contacts by mail, challenge yourself and others, learn and educate, contribute to your community, travel, generate international goodwill and continue a century-old wireless communication tradition.
You can prepare for the exam on your own, with a group of friends or by taking a class sponsored by a ham radio club in your area. Many Amateur Radio clubs hold periodic free classes, usually for the Technician license. Check the ARRL Web site, www.arrl.org, for classes, clubs or volunteer examiners (VEs) in your area.
To find a ham in your area just look for a house that has the biggest TV antenna (a beam) that you ever saw and many smaller antennas and wires on the roof.
Go up and knock on the door and introduce yourself. He (or she) will be happy to talk to you. Help is always available from hams at every step. They can help you find ham radio clubs in your area as well as registered instructors and local VE teams. A lot more information is on the ARRL Web site, including details of the special frequencies exclusively for hams to use, popular operating activities and exam questions and answers study guides.
Here is a handy chart of the low power QRP frequencies. These are reserved for hams that are operating battery powered portable stations while on vacation or just experimenting to see how far they can reach using low power – often less than 5 watts.