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According to the Federal Communications Commission, amateur ("ham") radio is:
A radio communications service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication, and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.

But that definition leaves out something very important: ham radio is a lot of fun!

If you're interested in hobby radio at all, ham radio is the ultimate trip: the chance to operate your own radio station. Want to communicate around the world on shortwave? Want to use VHF and UHF frequencies like you can hear on a scanner? Want to operate your own television station? The ultimate model radio control system? Want to experiment with packet radio----an on-the-air version of the Internet---or "go retro" with Morse code? Ever wondered what it would be like to communicate directly with a ham aboard the Space Shuttle or through a communications satellite using your own radio station? You can do all of that, and a lot more, with ham radio.

QSL card from 5N9GM Many ham radio operators like to exchange QSL cards with each other after a QSO (contact), especially with a distant station or one in a different country.

One thing needs to be made clear up front: all ham radio communications are restricted to two-way communications with other ham radio stations. You can't broadcast on the AM or FM broadcast bands with a ham radio license, nor can you communicate with other two-way radio stations, like CB or marine stations, via ham radio except in emergencies.

Ham radio operators have several different frequency bands set aside for their use. These bands range from just above the AM broadcast band (the AM band ends at 1700 kHz; the 160-meter ham band begins at 1800 kHz) through the shortwave band and into the VHF, UHF, and microwave frequencies. The exact frequency ranges that you can use depends upon the class of ham radio license you hold.

. . . . . Ah yes, licensing! To operate a ham radio station in the United States, you must hold a license issued by the FCC. Obtaining a license requires you to pass an examination; higher license classes require passing more difficult exams.

Actually, requiring exams before issuing a ham license makes a lot of sense. Most of the topics on the written exams are things you need to know anyone in order to properly and safely operate your station. All ham license classes but one (the Novice class) allow you to use transmitter powers as high as 1500 watts (compare that to the 5 watts CB stations are allowed!). You can use a variety of different modulation modes on frequencies capable of worldwide communication-----and interference! Those are some very good reasons for determining someone's competence via examination before granting a ham radio license. Don't look at the exam requirement as an obstacle; instead, think of it as an opportunity to demonstrate how good you are.

But don't you have to pass a Morse code test to get a ham radio license? The good news is: THE MOST POPULAR CLASS OF HAM RADIO LICENSE REQUIRES NO MORSE CODE TEST! That class of license is the Technician. To get it, you have to pass an exam consisting of 35 multiple-choice questions. If you answer 74% or more correctly, you're a ham! As of February 2007 the Morse Code requirement was dropped for ALL amateur license levels. There is absolutely no more code requirement for amateur radio.

And the news gets better: all questions on the written ham radio exams are drawn from a public "pool" of questions. In the case of the Technician exam, the 35 questions are drawn from a pool of  510 questions, all of them multiple-choice. Several ham radio exam study guides based upon the question pools are available. Even though it's best to learn some basic electronics before taking the Technician exam, it's possible to get a ham radio license just by memorizing the pool questions and answers!

The Technician class of license restricts you to operation on frequencies of 50 MHz and above. As you may know, these frequencies are in the VHF/UHF range typically covered by scanner radios. Aren't these frequencies good only for local, "line of sight" communications?

No! The 50 to 54 MHz range (known as the six-meter band) "opens" several times each year for communications over ranges of hundreds or even thousands of miles away through a phenomenon known as sporadic-E propagation. During years of high sunspot activity, the six-meter band can be used for regular communications worldwide, similar to the 10-meter (28 to 29.7 MHz) band. Several hams have managed to contact over 100 different countries on six meters.

ZF2MV QSLSome ham radio operators like to go on "DXpeditions," which are trips to countries where few ham radio operators are active. The "DXpeditioners" put the rare country on the air and try to make as many contacts as possible. This is a QSL card from a DXpedition to the Cayman Islands.

The Technician license also lets you operate on the two-meter (144 to 148 MHz) band. "Two" is the world's most popular ham radio band. Reliable range on this band is normally restricted to the visual horizon plus about 15% extra. Depending on your local terrain, this works out to about 20 to 50 miles from your location. However, hams have developed some ingenious ways to extend this range.

One is the repeater station. A repeater station listens for a signal on one frequency (the input frequency) and re-transmits, or "repeats," it on another frequency known as the output. Repeater stations are located on top of tall buildings or mountains where the "radio horizon" is much greater than from the ground. It's not uncommon for a hand-held "walkie-talkie" two-meter transceiver (combination transmitter/receiver) to be able to reliably communicate over a radius of a couple of hundred miles through a repeater.

Technician class hams are also able to communicate through ham radio communications satellites. Most ham radio satellites make some use of the two-meter band, either for ground-to-satellite (uplink) or satellite-to-ground (downlink) signals. Many hams have contacted over 100 different countries via communications satellites. Equipment and antennas for satellite communications can be very modest; satellite antennas for two-meters are similar in size to outdoor TV/FM antennas.

Other activities open to Technician class hams include packet radio, amateur television, model control, and friendly chatting ("ragchewing") with other hams in their area. Most communications on the ham bands above 50 MHz use FM, but SSB, digital modes, and even Morse code (CW) are used.

International regulations formerly required a Morse code exam for operation on frequencies below 30 MHz, but this has been by dropped by the United States and many other countries.

OH2MEL QSL This isn't a sexist QSL card; OH2MEL is a YL (unmarried female) ham radio operator in Finland.

Each license class conveys a different set of operating privileges, with the Technician class license giving the most narrow set of privileges on a limited number of bands and the Extra giving all amateur privileges on all bands. Hams also get distinctive call signs reflecting their class of license. For example, a call sign like KZ9ZZZ would be normally be issued to a Technician licensee while AK6C would be issued to an Extra class licensee. In the United States, the numeral in a ham's call sign indicates where the ham was living when the license was originally issued.

Ham radio is an international fraternity that transcends the barriers of nationality, race, age, sex, and class. Whenever you take to the air as a ham, you never know who you might find to talk to. It might be an old friend you've known for years; it might be a new friend you haven't met before. Why not join the millions around the world who already have their ham license? They would all like to say hello to you!


For further information on amateur radio we recommend . . .

All About Ham Radio

    All About Ham Radio

    By Harry Helms AA6FW.
    Here is an exciting new intro to ham radio written for the 90's. It is written in a direct, humorous way without a lot of math and techno-babble. Perfect for the potential ham without a technical background. Geared towards those seeking a codeless tech. ticket. Very readable. 1992 HighText 291 pages.
    Only $9.98

    Available from Universal Radio and other select radio and book dealers.

    Click here to visit Universal Radio's online catalog.


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