Ham radio, otherwise known as amateur radio, is a hobby that attracts many people. Ham radio enthusiasts and hobbyists talk to each other around the world, take part in competitions and awards, play games like “foxhunting”, practice traditional communication methods like Morse Code and new communication methods like digital packet and APRS, and even use communications for emergencies!
Ham radio is often confused with CB (or Citizens Band) radio but is distinctly different. CB radio only allows for local communications with limited frequencies and modes, whereas ham radio allows users to use AM, FM, CW, SSB, RTTY, SSTV, ATV, Packet, and many other modes. If you are interested in getting into ham radio, here are a few things that you need to know.
Do you need a license to use ham radio?
In order to use ham radio, you have to take and pass a written 35-question exam given by the FCC. Once you have passed, the FCC will assign you a unique call sign. There are three different levels of license: Technician, General, and Extra. The exam for each level is more challenging than the last, but the Technician exam is not too difficult, and there is an online course that can help you to learn.
What is the appeal of ham radio?
Ham radio is a diverse hobby, and every aficionado has their own personal reasons for enjoying it. For most ham radio enthusiasts (known as “hams”), the social aspect of the hobby is what draws them in. With ham radio, you can talk to people all over the world.
There are also challenges that you can get involved with, and awards given for completing them. For example, the DX Century Club award is given for confirming contact with hams located in 100 separate countries. If you are interested in technology and engineering, you can even build or modify ham radios with new designs!
Public services and emergency communications are also draws for hams. In situations where primary modes of communication go down, hams can step in to offer emergency communications. It’s not just a hobby – ham radio has actually saved lives!
How much does ham radio cost?
The price of getting into ham radio can vary, but it is not usually too expensive. Sites like HRO Electronics stock a wide range of radios and associated equipment and accessories. The Technician exam and certification costs around 15 dollars, and a dual-band local ham radio usually costs less than 50 dollars. If you want to talk to other radio users around the world, a complete station can cost hundreds or even thousands. If you want to buy advanced equipment, checking out sites like eBay or other second hand stores can save you a lot of money.
How to get started with ham radio
Once you have learned about ham radio, passed the exam to get your Technician license, and purchased your first radio, why not contact your local ham radio club and find opportunities to get involved with?