As you might know, there are several types of communications available to civilians. For example, there is Citizens Band, or CB radio. This is where people have a radio in their home, work, or vehicle and can communicate with other local people. The range is around 10 miles. There are also Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) with a range of ~5 miles, Family Radio Service (FRS) with a range of ~2 miles, and Marine VHF which is used in boats, which has a range of around 20 miles.
What is ham radio?
You can buy the devices for all of the above and use these without any special licensing. In addition to this though, there is a much wider spectrum of frequencies that are available, with a range that goes all the way around the world (with the help of satellites, meteors, or the moon). This is referred to as “amateur radio”, or ham radio.
To transmit over these frequencies legally in the U.S., you have register with the FCC. However, that is made simple because there is a non-profit organization that manages (organizes, really) the amateur radio service in the U.S. and that is the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), found via http://www.arrl.org
They don’t so much “control” amateur radio, but they are the focal point for help and information. Check out their website, it has a tremendous amount of information.
So, ham radio is the concept of transmitting and receiving over a very wide spectrum of radio waves, with nearly unlimited range. This can be used to transmit voice, Morse code, data, and even an internet signal.
Why is it called amateur radio?
This is an interesting aspect of it. When ham radio was formalized in 1934, they forbid the users from charging money for it. That means that corporations can’t be involved in the transmission of any signal, really. Think about that for a minute: there is this sector of technology from which corporations are forbidden from taking over!
Why should I pursue being a ham radio operator?
There are quite a few reasons one might find this interesting:
- You enjoy building, or learning about electronics and radio communication. You can build your radio from scratch if you like, buy a high-end one, or hack something in-between.
- You’d like to talk with, and meet with like-minded people who are into technical things like amateur radio
- You’d like to be involved in communications for local events (like parades, and civic events)
- You’d like to be involved in emergency communication. In the event of local or regional disaster, police and amateur radios are often the only form of long-distance communication. You can become a “relay” for communication for your community and potentially law enforcement.
- You have some ideas for how you’d like to take advantage of communication like this. Because it’s non-commercial, lots of people have come up with really innovation, entirely new ways to use ham radio – including data communication, and integration with the internet.
- You FCC-issued ham radio call sign (a few letters and numbers) can become a unique symbol that represents you. Some people get their car license plate, and even the internet domain name to match their call sign – as that becomes more of a universal symbol of their identity.
In other words, it’s a pretty technical hobby. If none of the above really inspires you, this might not be the hobby for you.
Where do I start?
For me, I started last week. For you, start by joining the ARRL. They will send you a book with all of the study material. At the very least, you need your “technician” license. You prep by going over the study material and taking the practice exam. When you are ready, you go take the real exam. If you pass, then you will be educated enough to, and you will be legally allowed to communicate via amateur radio.
As of this writing, the membership to ARRL is $35/year and the exam is $15.
What levels of certification are there?
Again, in order to transmit legally in the U.S., you must have an FCC call sign – and that is only issued after you pass a certain level exam. Here are the various levels:
|Technician||All VHF, UHF privileges; some HF privileges|
|General||All VHF, UHF privileges; most HF privileges|
|Amateur Extra||All amateur privileges|
Make no mistake though, the higher level license classes get crazy technical!!
Here are some other links you might find interesting before joining:
- What is the ARRL?
- Join ARRL (you get the license manual for free)
- Find a place to take a class (if you don’t want to do self-study)
- Online courses (not free)
- Find a place to take your exam
- Find a local club to join (they have events, contests, and mentors)
- What is Ham Radio?
- Technical FAQ
What I’m doing…
I wrote this blog post because this is something I’m starting. This is a low priority for me, but something I’ve wanted to do for a while. So, I’m just chipping away at this slowly. I started last week when I got my book in the mail. I estimated that in about an hour, I could probably cover around 20 pages, with note-taking. It’s a fairly large font, and there are lot of breaks in the page. So, I created a schedule – an aggressive path, and an easier path:
Regardless of how much I get done each week, I should be wrapped up and ready to take the exam by the end of December or early January. At that point, I’ll be knowledgeable about equipment and I’d make some decisions about what kind of equipment I might buy.
So there you have it, this is crash-course on ham radio in the year 2014. If any of this interests you, you should consider getting your technicians license!