What is Ham Radio?
What is Ham Radio?
A housewife in North Carolina makes friends over the radio
with another ham in Lithuania. An Ohio teenager uses his
computer to upload a digital chess move to an orbiting space
satellite, where it's retrieved by a fellow chess enthusiast
in Japan. An aircraft engineer in Florida participating in a
"DX contest" swaps his call sign and talks to hams in 100
different countries during a single weekend. In California,
volunteers save lives as part of their involvement in an
emergency response. And from his room in Chicago, a ham's
pocket-sized hand-held radio allows him to talk to friends
in the Carolinas. This unique mix of fun, public service and
convenience is the distinguishing characteristic of Amateur
Radio. Although hams get involved for many reasons, they all
have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology and
operating principles, and pass an examination for the FCC
license to operate on radio frequencies known as the
"Amateur Bands." These bands are radio frequencies reserved
by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use by
hams at intervals from just above the AM broadcast band all
the way up into extremely high microwave frequencies. Listen
to this spot, "What
Is Ham Radio?"
Who's the Typical Ham?
Amateur Radio operators come from all walks of life -- movie
stars, missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, truck
drivers and just plain folks. They are all ages, sexes,
income levels and nationalities. They say Hello to the world
in many languages and many ways. But whether they prefer
Morse code on an old brass telegraph key, voice
communication on a hand-held radio, or computerized messages
transmitted via satellite, they all have an interest in
what's happening in the world, and they use radio to reach
What's the Appeal of Ham Radio?
Some hams are attracted by the ability to communicate across
the country, around the globe, or even with astronauts on
space missions. Others may like to build and experiment with
electronics. Computer hobbyists enjoy using Amateur Radio's
digital communications opportunities. Those with a
competitive streak enjoy "DX contests," where the object is
to see how many hams in distant locations they can contact.
Some like the convenience of a technology that gives them
portable communication. Mostly we use it to open the door to
new friendships over the air or through participation in one
of more than 2000 Amateur Radio clubs throughout the
country. Read real person comments in "Why
I Love It!".
Why Do You Need a License?
Although the main purpose of Amateur Radio is fun, it is
called the "Amateur Radio Service" because it also has a
serious face. The FCC created this "Service" to fill the
need for a pool of experts who could provide backup during
emergencies. In addition, the FCC acknowledged the ability
of the hobby to advance the communication and technical
skills of radio, and to enhance international goodwill. This
philosophy has paid off. Countless lives have been saved
where skilled hobbyists act as emergency communicators to
render aid, whether it's during an earthquake in Italy or a
hurricane in the U.S.
Why Do They Call Themselves "Hams"?
"Ham: a poor operator. A 'plug.'"
That's the definition of the word given in G. M. Dodge's
"The Telegraph Instructor" even before there was radio. The
definition has never changed in wire telegraphy. The first
wireless operators were landline telegraphers who left their
offices to go to sea or to man the coastal stations. They
brought with them their language and much of the tradition
of their older profession. In those early days, every
station occupied the same wavelength-or, more accurately
perhaps, every station occupied the whole spectrum with its
broad spark signal. Government stations, ships, coastal
stations and the increasingly numerous amateur operators all
competed for time and signal supremacy in each other's
receivers. Many of the amateur stations were very powerful.
Two amateurs, working each other across town, could
effectively jam all the other operations in the area.
Frustrated commercial operators would refer to the ham radio
interference by calling them "hams." Amateurs, possibly
unfamiliar with the real meaning of the term, picked it up
and applied it to themselves in true "Yankee Doodle" fashion
and wore it with pride. As the years advanced, the original
meaning has completely disappeared.
Do I Have to Learn Morse Code?
Not any more! While many hams LIKE to use Morse code, it is
not required for your entry level license.
What are some of the other ways radio hams communicate? What
do they sound like?
There is a great variety of ways that Amateur Radio
operators are able to communicate. Using voice is just one.
Morse code is still widely used. Here is what "hello"
sounds like in Morse code.
(often called Ritty) and
are three more. Even faster transmissions are being
developed using methods which can send almost any form of
digital data. Hams also use
to send pictures over the air.
What are the Amateur Radio Bands?
Look at the dial on an old AM radio and you'll see
frequencies marked from 535 to 1605 kilohertz. This is one
radio "band." There are other bands of radio spectrum for
amateur, government, military and commercial radio uses. If
you could hear the many different bands, you would find
aircraft, ship, fire and police communication, as well as
the so-called "shortwave" stations, which are worldwide
commercial and government broadcast stations from the U.S.
and overseas. Amateurs are allocated 26 bands (i.e.,
specific groups of frequencies) spaced from 1.8 Megahertz,
which is just above the broadcast radio frequencies, all the
way up to 275 Gigahertz! Depending on which band we use, we
can talk across town, around the world, or out to satellites
in space. Hams can even bounce signals off the moon!
How Much Does it Cost?
Basic study materials for passing the FCC test and getting
your initial license usually cost less than $40. There are
also classes held by many local groups for people who want
more interaction. If possible, taking part in one of these
classes is the best way to go, but there's even an online
course you can take if your personal schedule is too hectic.
Once you have your first license, most hams find it best to
start with simple equipment and grow over time. It usually
costs less than $200 to get your own first radio and start
saying Hello. Many ham radio flea markets are held all over
the country that sell good used equipment for even less.
What is the ARRL?
Founded in 1914, the 150,000-member ARRL - The National
Association for Amateur Radio is the national association
for Amateur Radio in the USA. Other countries also have
their own national associations. The ARRL not only reflects
the commitment and many enthusiasms of American hams, but
also provides leadership as the voice of Amateur Radio in
the USA, whether in dealings with the Federal Communications
Commission, the World Administrative Radio Conference, the
International Amateur Radio Union, or with the general
public. The ARRL is the primary source of information about
what is going on in the ham radio world. It provides books,
news, support and information for individuals and clubs,
special operating events, all sorts of continuing education
classes and other benefits for its members. Being a member
of the ARRL is important for hams!
Where Do I Get More Information?
The best ways to learn about Amateur Radio is to talk to
hams face-to-face. Hams take pride in their ability to
"Elmer" (teach) newcomers the ropes to get them started in
the hobby. If your interested in Amateur Radio, contact the
DeSoto Amateur Radio Club at
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2006 - 2012, All rights reserved.
02/26/2013 12:25 AM