Amateur Radio? Explain Please.

By Jonathan Imberi

The hobby of Amateur Radio (AKA Ham Radio) offers something for everyone! It allows you to meet people and make new friends who all share a common interest - communication. Communication is the underlying purpose of Amateur Radio.

There are many different operating methods in Amateur Radio - hand-held, mobile, base and repeaters, just to name a few. With the use of a repeater's relaying ability, a simple hand-held radio can have a communication range of 50 miles or more. With the use of multiple linked repeaters a hand-held can talk across the country and even around the world! Another popular method through the use of repeaters is mobile communication. This is especially popular during commuting hours when you can always find someone to talk to on a repeater. 

Most people enjoy helping out in their community. With Amateur Radio there are always many ways of doing so. For example, you may use your repeater's telephone link to notify the authorities of an accident, or your local Amateur Radio club may provide communications for a parade, or during an emergency such as a tornado.

Imagine talking to a student in a classroom overseas or a balloonist making a flight around the world! You can talk to Amateur Radio operators all over the world in many different ways. The most popular way is to bounce your radio's signal off a layer in the upper atmosphere (called the ionosphere). You can also use one of the multiple OSCAR satellites in Earth's orbit. OSCAR is an acronym meaning Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio. Since 1961 there have been about 40 OSCARs designed and built by Amateur Radio operators. If using a man-made satellite seems too easy, try using Earth's natural satellite - the moon. You can bounce your radio signals off the moon and talk to other Amateur Radio operators in over 100 countries around the world!

Once in communication there are many different ways to talk to another Amateur Radio operator. Voice is the most common method, but you can also have computer to computer conversations without the use of the internet or telephone lines. Some of the earliest Amateur Radio operators utilized Morse Code to communicate. You do not have to learn Morse Code to get your Amateur Radio license any more, but many Amateur Radio operators still enjoy using this international language. If photography or video is what sparks your interest there are even methods of sending color photographs, live video, slides, and artwork to other operators thousands of miles away. 

Did you ever have a remote controlled car or plane? With your Amateur Radio license you can operate RC models with the use of exclusive Amateur Radio frequencies. If you like to work on electronics, Amateur Radio gives you the ability to build your own equipment and use it to talk to other operators world-wide.

Unlike shortwave or scanner listening, Amateur Radio communication is not one-sided - you can join in on the excitement. Amateur Radio operators are very proud of their hobby and some display this by having their call sign on their vehicle's license plates. Communicating over the air is not the only activity operators can participate in. They also have hamfests, club meetings, conventions, and even classes to welcome and encourage newcomers. 

All About the Amateur Radio License

There are three classes of Amateur Radio licenses in the United States - Technician, General, and Extra. All US licenses are issued by the Federal Communications Commission, have a ten-year term, and are renewable. Although you can take the exams and start out at the Extra class, most beginners start with the Technician license.

To receive a Technician license you must pass a 35-question exam (Element 2). This exam covers FCC regulations, basic electronics theory, and operating practices. A passing grade is a 74%. Technician operators are granted privileges on the VHF, UHF and microwave amateur bands. This includes the Amateur Radio satellite bands, allowing you to talk to other operators around the world via satellites, and the popular two meter band.

Volunteer Examiners (VEs), accredited by the Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC), give the exams. You can contact the ARRL/VEC Office for information on exam sessions near you at

If you get your Technician license and then decide you would like to use the high-frequency bands, you can always upgrade your license. One of the steps involved in the upgrading process is passing a 5-word per minute Morse Code exam. After you pass the Morse Code exam you will be granted Morse Code privileges on portions of four HF bands. You will also be allowed to operate on one band using voice and digital (computer-based) communications. Your new privileges will begin the day you pass the exam.

An international treaty requires knowledge of Morse Code for any Amateur Radio operators who are using the HF bands. Morse Code and manyQ Signals are understood internationally, making Morse Code the ideal language for communicating with other operators in foreign countries. 

You can take two more steps to upgrade your Amateur Radio license. You can earn a General class license by passing another 35-question exam (Element 3) about FCC rules, more advanced electronics theory, and operating practices. You must also pass the 5-word per minute Morse Code exam to obtain your General license. As a General class operator you gain privileges on nine medium and high frequency bands with voice privileges on eight of those bands, as well as allowing you to operate with up to 1500 watts of power. The third upgrade step is to earn the Extra class license. This requires you to pass a 50-question exam about FCC rules, advanced electronics principles and operating practices. The Extra class license gives you full privileges on all the bands.

Diversity in Amateur Radio 

Having fun communicating, experimenting with antennas and radios, and building electronic circuits are just a few of the many things Amateur Radio is all about. That is why the hobby of Amateur Radio is so diverse - people come together from every background to unite in a single hobby. There is something about meeting and exchanging ideas with Hams and their friends, from across town or around the world, that gets everyone interested, young or old. In the hobby of Amateur Radio age forms no barrier. There are Hams of all ages, from as young as 5 years old to over 90. 

The hobby of Amateur Radio holds no roadblocks for people with disabilities. Many Hams who are unable to walk, see, or talk are able to enjoy their Amateur Radio hobby. Some ham clubs even take classes into a disabled person's home to help them discover Ham Radio. The Courage Center sponsors the HANDI-HAM system to help people with physical disabilities obtain amateur licenses. The system provides materials and instruction to persons with disabilities interested in obtaining Ham licenses. The Center also provides information to other Hams who wish to help people with disabilities earn a license.

Write to:
Courage HANDI-HAM System
Courage Center
3915 Golden Valley Road
Golden Valley, MN 55422

"Home Brewing" (Home Built) and The History of Amateur Radio

It isn't necessary to have a shack full of the latest equipment to have fun on the air. Many Hams operate only off equipment they either built from scratch or repaired to working order. In fact one Ham went as far to talk around the world on a home-made transmitter built from an old radio telephone, a vacuum tube, some coax cable, a few aspirin tins, and a quartz crystal from an old airplane radio. Over 100 years ago many Hams used transmitters that were nothing more than a length of copper wire wrapped around an oatmeal box, attached to a few other basic parts and a wire antenna. Hams have and will continue to look for new ways to develop and advance the state of communications art in their quest for more effective means of communication.

Amateur Radio is now over 100 years old and is as strong of hobby now as it ever was. Its expansive history can be read best in the articles by Bill Continelli, W2XOY. Bill has prepared several articles in a series he calls "The Wayback Machine", in the hope to expand the knowledge of fellow hams, about Amateur Radio's unique and unchallenged history.

Amateur Radio is Patriotic

By tradition Amateur Radio operators have served their country in times of need. During times of war, Hams have patriotically taken their skills and technical ability into the field. During natural disasters Hams provide an emergency communication system when normal communication channels have been interrupted or have failed completely. Practically every transmitter operating in the US has provided some public service at one time or another. Amateur Radio operators recognize their responsibility to provide public service communications. Many of them train in various ways so they can be effective communicators in times of trouble. Clubs often host nets (a gathering of Hams on a single frequency for a specific purpose) devoted to developing the skill of sending and receiving messages efficiently. This daily operation helps prepare Hams for real emergencies.