Introduction To Ham Radio (US Edition)

What Is Ham Radio:

The ARRL describes Amateur Radio as follows:
"Amateur Radio (ham radio) is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics and communication together. People use ham radio to talk across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the Internet or cell phones. It's fun, social, educational, and can be a lifeline during times of need."

You can set up a ham radio station anywhere!

On a beach...
On The Beach your overland rig In Your Rig

...or at home. In Your Home

Although Amateur Radio operators get involved for many reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology and operating principles, and pass an examination for the FCC license to operate on radio frequencies known as the "Amateur Bands." These bands are radio frequencies allocated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use by ham radio operators."

What Are The License Classes:

In the United States there are three classes of Amateur Radio Operator Licenses (Ham)

  • Technician Class
  • General Class
  • Extra Class

Each Class license increases your privileges on the air.

Primarily the Technician Class license is for VHF/UHF communications, which work well for regional contacts. VHF (2M) and UHF (70CM) are the two most common forms of mobile ham radio communications equipment. Simplex these operate line of sight, which is to say 5-10 miles over flat level terrain.

The General Class license opens up 90% of the HF bands for you. These bands work for around-the-world communications, even with low power and modest antennas. As an example, while driving on Hwy 71 in Austin, Texas, I was able to carry on a conversation with a HAM outside Moscow, in Russia.

Finally the Extra Class license gives you the last small piece of the pie. Primarily these are edges of the bands which more closely overlap with other nations band allocations opening up more opportunities to talk to HAMs from other countries.

How Can You Get Licensed:

Ham Radio Clubs across the country offer testing sessions every month. The ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League) provides a tool to help you locate Amateur Radio License Exams in your area. TEST FINDER

Tests cost around $15 to take. If you pass the Technician the testing site will let you take your General test in the same sitting for free. If you pass your General test, they will let you take the Extra for free in the same sitting. So with proper preparation it is possible to go from unlicensed to Extra in one day.

Once you pass a test, your license is good for 10 years, at which point you renew your license for free. You do not need to take any further tests.

Training/Study Materials:

There are books from Gordon West to help you prepare for the tests. I found Gordon West's teaching style in his AUDIO CD Programs to be very compatible with my learning style.

You can take Practice tests for all three license classes here: (free registration required)
Each requires a score of greater than 70% to pass. If you are regularly scoring around 85% on practice tests, you are ready for the real thing!