Around the world, approximately three million people engage in amateur radio operation. With this technology, they can reach other amateur radio operators within their neighborhood or even across the globe! While the basic technology was developed around the latter part of the 1800s, amateur radio as an emergency communications method only started in the early 1900s. The first amateur radio stations sprang up North America before later spreading to other countries. For many people, amateur radio begins as a hobby. The portable device allows for communication from just about anywhere. An extension of this hobby involves building electronic ham radio devices and experimenting with variations. There is no “typical” ham radio operator; a wide range of people from different cultures, income levels, and ages make up the worldwide collection of hams. They often use ham radio to make new friends or to keep in touch with people. Beyond this, ham radio has also been a fantastic resource for emergency services, especially in situations for cell phone lines or down or landlines and internet services are not available. The speed and convenience that it offers makes it perfect for responders to quickly call for help. In fact, a good number of emergency ham radio operators are volunteers who first got involved for the hobby aspect of it. There have been several instances where skilled ham radio operators were able to help rescue victims of emergencies and natural disasters.
To become a ham radio operator in the United States, a license is required from the Federal Communications Commission. This is because the FCC has to grant permission to use radio frequencies that they reserve and monitor. The examination typically tests a person’s knowledge of radio technology, call signs, and operating procedures. There are several websites, as well as the FCC’s official site, that offer practice exams and study guides so that people can prepare in advance. Some organizations also offer amateur radio classes with hands-on training with a licensed instructor. The licensing costs can vary by area. Typical costs are around $40, while college students may be eligible for lower costs when applying through a testing center in a college. A basic set of equipment can range up to $200, although there are plenty of second-hand stores that sell used equipment for cheaper prices. To communicate with a ham radio, the operator can either talk normally or use other forms of communication such as Morse code or Radio Teletype. In the past, knowledge of Morse code was a requirement for licensing but now this practice has stopped. However, some higher levels of licensing may still test applicants on it. Even so, many ham radio operators go ahead and learn Morse code anyway, simply for the knowledge and enjoyment of using it.
Although many people enjoy using ham radios individually, others prefer to join a club where they can meet other like-minded amateur radio enthusiasts. This is a great solution especially for beginners, so that they can learn more from others who have more experience and knowledge. A fun way to try it out before being licensed is to visit a club and see what they do. There are also plenty of online resources that include detailed explanations, tutorials, and more about how to become involved with amateur radio. Chief among these is the National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) in the United States. It helps to regulate and provide guidance for amateur operators, and communicates with the FCC and other major organizations on their behalf. To get started on a fun journey of radio communications, explore the ham radio resources listed below, for everything from its history to required equipment, terminology, and licensing details.