I Want to be a Ham?

So why should I consider becoming a ham?

Ham radio is one of few hobbies that has both enjoyable and practical aspects. Many hams get involved initially because they are drawn to electronics, electrical systems, or computers, but find that their interests can be put to practical use in community volunteering, special event stations, or even emergency communications teams. Others just enjoy chatting with other people located in diverse geographical locations, and ham radio provides an avenue to find new friends. There are hundreds of aspects to the hobby, and whether you're looking to test your newest invention or just want to hang out with others who like similar things, you're sure to find something that will be fun and rewarding. Maybe you're a social person and like to talk. Or maybe you're a little bit introverted and enjoy tinkering. Whatever your personality type and interests, Amatuer Radio has something for everyone

What's involved in becoming a ham?

Ham radio has been around a long time and has always been about communicating via radio waves. Early on, a system was needed to make sure that the airwaves could be regulated so that everyone had a fair shot at using them, and as a result, a licensing system was devised for all various governmental, military, commercial, and personal uses of the spectrum. Some frequencies don't require a license for people to use at all, but they're generally limited in scope. Becoming a licensed ham radio operator opens up large areas of the spectrum for you to use for lots of different communications modes, but in order to become licensed, you need to take a test. Don't fret, the testing process is simple and painless, and you can likely pass the test after only studying for a weekend. Besides, there are a lot of guys around who would love to help you learn the things you need to know and would like nothing more to help get you going. Amatuer Radio is strictly a non-commercial service. It may not be used for business or advertising.

Who is eligible for a Ham license?

Anyone can be licensed as an Amatuer Radio Operator. You can be of any age, female or male, and a citizen or non-citizen of the United States. Special arrangements are provided during the exam for anyone with disabilities so they can easily become hams as well. About the only restriction is that a ham cannot be a representative of a foreign government.

Types of License Classes

The first thing to know is that there are currently three levels (or classes) of Amatuer Radio operator licenses that one can presently obtain. In ascending order they are:

Technician Class

General Class

Extra Class

Do I need to learn Morse Code?

Nope. Those days are over. A lot of hams still enjoy learning Morse Code because it's easier to hear when signal are very weak, and long-distance weak-signal contacts can be made much more easily than by using other modes.

The Entry Level Exam - The Technician License

The first level of the Amatuer Radio Operator is the Technician Class which allows you all ham radio frequency use privileges above 28 MHz, including the popular 2 meter band where many operators enjoy using small hand-held radios (called HT's) to chat with other hams in their area. Technicians may operate FM voice, digital modes such as packet (computers), television, single-sideband voice several other interesting modes. You can even make international radio contacts via satellites, using relatively simple station equipment, or even through linked networks using D-STAR or linked repeater networks.

The Technician Exam

The Technician exam you will be asked to complete will contain 35 questions. To pass, you must correctly answer at least 26 questions. The questions are organized into a number of supplements (topics), each contains a number of groups (subtopics). There are at least ten questions associated with each group and one question from each group is randomly included on the exam. You must sit for the licensing exam in person. Licensing exam sessions are managed by Amatuer Radio operators who are designated Volunteer Examiners ("VEs").

How do I start preparing to take the Technician Exam?

"Is it for me? Can I do this?" Once again, we stress that licensed Amatuer Radio operators do not have to learn complex radio engineering theory nor radio electronics repair! There are licensed Amateurs from 6 to over 100 years old. You can do this, if you commit to a period of study and pass the exam. It's just like any other course of study: You immerse yourself in it for a little while, pass your exam, then enjoy all the benefits for the rest of your life

There are a myriad of ways. There are a lot of excellent books on the subject by authors and teachers. There are also a lot of websites, some paid and some free, that offer study guides and practice tests that will expand your knowledge and give you a taste of what the actual exam will be. Here are a few examples of materials that you can use. None of the links are necessarily endorsing any particular product; these are meant as reference only.

Study Books

The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual. It's a perfect resource for the beginner and will step through every concept in simple-to-understand terms.

Study Websites

There are many, many websites available with study materials or practice tests, so this is just a representative sample. Use your favorite browser to search for more.

hamstudy.org is a free website for studying exam questions and it includes practice tests. Although the site is free, registration is required.

hamexam.org is a free site with online flash cards and practice exams.

hamtestonline.com is not free, but it combines study materials and practice tests into one format. It uses a method of presenting material related to a particular topic, and then showing exam questions related to that topic. There are also different types of practice exams available, some of which are adaptive and will return to questions that you missed earlier to reinforce the correct answers.

http://www.arrl.org/courses-training - A list of courses and training from the ARRL which will help you once you have become a Ham and wish to understand the finer points of the hobby

Take a local class

Preparation classes for the Technician-class exam are available locally. You may prefer to meet for a few hours every week for a few weeks or to take a "cram" course that lasts only one day and ends with the exam itself. To find a local class, you can use the ARRL online search service. You might also find a local Ham and ask when the next training class is.

It is Testing Time!!

When a local club schedules having an exam session. Three or more Volunteer Examiners (VEs) will give you an FCC Form to fill in, then the exam. You will need to bring certain things to the exam site:

A photo ID and two other forms of identification (credit, library, Social Security cards, etc.)

The approved VE fee to cover the cost of VEC expenses.

You may bring a calculator, but the memory must be cleared. An examiner will check it.

Two #2 pencils with erasers, and a pen to fill out the form.

Please call ahead if you need special accommodations. FCC rules provide for testing people with handicaps.

If you fail the exam, you may take another one, for another VE fee.

You will be provided an exam, exam graphics, an answer sheet, and scratch paper.

RELAX! Stress and nervousness will only hinder you. This isn't a job interview!

When you pass your exam, the examiners will give you a Certificate of Successful Completion (CSCE) and file your paperwork with their Volunteer Exam Coordinator (VEC). They, in turn, will file with the FCC. Point to remember, if you pass your exam continue to take the next exam, here is why: you do not have to pay another fee and even if you do not pass, you get a feeling on what the test is. If you pass, take the next one you might pass that one too!!

I've passed the test! Where do I go from here?

First, congratulations! You're on your way to getting involved in a rewarding hobby and you'll soon make a lot of new friends. You'll need to wait until you receive your call sign from the FCC before you can make your first transmission, but that usually doesn't take long. Once you have your call sign, our suggestion is to do two things: hop on the nearest 2m repeater say "Hi" and introduce yourself.

Once you pass the exam and your assigned call sign appears in the Federal Communications Commission ULS database. Click FCC Search, put in Last, First name and your zip code. When your call is issued, this is the first place it will appear. But you won't necessarily know everything you need to know in order to operate skillfully and courteously, or to get the most out of your accomplishment. Listening to more-experienced hams is very good advice, but don't choose a careless or ill-trained operator as your role model. The ARRL Operating Manual contains much sound information about good operating practices for hams.

Your license is good for ten years. It is your responsibility to renew the license with the FCC. You can do it electronically, up to ninety days before it expires.

Once You Are Licensed Getting on the Air

Many new hams start off with a simple 2-meter handheld transceiver (HT). This is an inexpensive way to get on the air. However, keep in mind the limitations of low output power and small battery packs. At a minimum, an inexpensive magnet-mount antenna for your vehicle, a plug-in hand microphone, cigarette lighter power cord, and an alkaline battery shell should compliment your HT purchase if it's going to be your only radio for a while. The additional investment in a few accessories will pay off in the convenience of operating safely and efficiently from home and on the road.

For significantly greater operating distance, a mobile radio can be used in the car or at home. While HT's transmit with between 0.2 and 5 watts (some as high as 7 watts), inexpensive mobile radios can be found operating with up to 50 watts of power, which will considerably enhance your ability to get a signal out to the other station or a distant repeater.

Before investing in any new equipment, take a moment to think about your requirements. Where will you primarily use the radio? What bands do you want to be able to use. Do you just want FM capabilities, or would you prefer to also have single-sideband (SSB).

When it comes to the "new vs. used" question, bear in mind that for most entry-level equipment there is usually no significant savings in buying used equipment from eBay, Craigslist, or other sources. Since there are so many things one can do to a radio to adversely affect its operating condition, do yourself a favor and make your first purchase a new radio from a reputable vendor with a warranty attached. The warranty won't cover your silly mistakes, but it will ensure you're not buying a $100 boat anchor!

You may want to stop by your local ham radio club's monthly meeting and ask for advice (you'll get plenty of it!) and many hams are more than willing to let you play with their radio, or maybe even borrow one of their old clunkers until you get a station of your own on the air!

Whatever you end up buying, have fun with it, and never stop exploring. Ham radio is a fascinating hobby and the possibilities are endless. Whatever you're interested in, there are others out there in our hobby that shares the same interests and perhaps years of experience you can benefit from every time you turn on the radio.


After you have been a Technician for a while, you may want to upgrade to General class, and then to Extra, the top license. The General class license gives you access to the "HF" (high-frequency) bands. These bands, located in the "short-wave" part of the spectrum, from 1.8 to 29.7 MHz, allow you to communicate world-wide. The Extra class license gives you all the frequencies available in every Amatuer Radio band.

Study the written exam for the General and Extra in the same fashion as the Tech - buy a study book, read it, then study the exam pool, never reading the wrong answers. Please remember that your license is a license to learn - there is a great deal to absorb beyond the testing requirements. Some of it is technical, but much of it is just good old-fashioned radio etiquette and common sense. Few people are naturally gifted in both, so improving skills, both technical and personal, is an on-going process. The rewards are both personal satisfaction in the accomplishments of a great hobby, and the meeting of many new life-long friends!

Something to Keep in Mind as a Ham

The Amateur's Code

Drafted by Paul M. Segal, W9EEA, cr. 1928

(Paraphrased for modern context)

The Radio Amateur is...


Never knowingly operates in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others. Abides by FCC Rules, the laws of the land, and good Amateur practices as fostered by the ARRL.


Offers loyalty, encouragement, and support to other Amateurs, local clubs, and the American Radio Relay League, through which Amatuer Radio in the United States is represented nationally and internationally.


Seeks continued education and keeps a station which is well-built, efficient and abreast of science; whose operation is well-practiced and above reproach.


Slow and patient in operating when requested; friendly advice and counsel to the beginner; kindly assistance, cooperation and consideration for others. These are the hallmarks of the Amateur Service.


Radio is an avocation, never interfering with duties owed to family, occupation, school, church or community.


A station and skill always ready for service to country and community.

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