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What is Amateur Radio?

"Amateur radio (also called ham radio) is the use of designated radio frequency spectrum for purposes of private recreation, non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, and emergency communication. The term "amateur" is used to specify persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest, and to differentiate it from commercial broadcasting, public safety (such as police and fire), or professional two-way radio services (such as maritime, aviation, taxis, etc.)." Wikipedia



Become A Ham

Amateur radio is a popular hobby with over 690,000 participants in the U.S. alone. But you can't just sit down in front of a radio and start transmitting. You must be licensed by the FCC in order to operate a transmitter

Find a Club

The best way to learn about amateur radio is to find a local club, W9BXR for one. These are hams who get together and do fun exercises like Field Day, fox hunts  (tracing rogue transmitters) and talk shop.

The biggest organization of hams in the US is the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) with around 154,000 members. You can also contact ARRL at 800-32-NEW HAM ) or email to learn more. Between reading ARRL's forums and by searching the web, you should be able to find a local club in no time. The ARRL has a search able  Find-A-Club database.


One guide for studying for your Technician Class exam is the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual (ISBN: 0-87259-963-9). Another study that's popular (and free!) is KB6NU's No-Nonsense, Technician Class License Study Guide. You can download this study guide from  KB6NU's Ham Radio Blog.

Study on line courses from

In addition to studying for the test, you can take practice tests on line. One example is the  QRZ TEST PRACTICE SITE.


Etiquette is very important in ham radio, and much of the Technician exam involves learning about following correct procedure. The first rule of operation is to not interfere with other peoples' signals. That's not just etiquette, it's the law. If that means moving your contact to another frequency, so be it. Also, remember that the FCC polices the airwaves, which means swearing is a no-no.

Morse Code

As telegraphy becomes less important to commercial radio operators, it is less important for amateur radio operators to learn it, so the FCC reduced their requirements for knowing Morse Code. Over the years the FCC eased the Code requirement for various classes until finally, in 2007, they did away with it altogether. There are still plenty of opportunities to learn and use Code, and there are even certain frequency bands that are Code-only. However, you no longer need to learn Morse Code to pass an exam

Learn Morse Code   11 Lessons

Get Licensed

There currently are three different classes of licenses available to new amateurs in the US. The entry-level license, called Technician Class, has limited transmitting privileges below 30 mega Hertz (MHz), but all privileges above that. Technicians may test for the  General Class which grants greater privileges. The highest level of ham is the  Amateur Extra  which enjoys all the privileges available to an amateur.

The  Advanced Class  license is an intermediate between General and Extra. The  Novice Class  was for new amateurs below Technician Class, and restricts their transmitter power. Amateurs who hold current Novice and Advanced Class licenses may renew and modify them indefinitely, but no new Novice or Advanced Class licenses will be issued.

Tests are offered by local radio clubs during their  hamfest, and other times. To find an upcoming test near you, check out ARRL's  Find-An-Exam  page, or contact your local club to see if they'll schedule a test by request. Many of the  Volunteer Examiners  who offer tests are willing to coordinate a test at a mutually convenient time.

Call Signs

Every licensed ham has a unique call sign. For example, the ARRL president Kay C. Craigie has the call sign  N3KN. When you pass your exam you'll be given a call sign by the FCC. However, so-called vanity call-signs can be purchased if you don't like what you got.

The official FCC call-sign search page is at:

To know who you're hearing and talking to, the two largest world-wide call sign databases are:



There are several organizations devoted to organizing volunteer radio operators to assist authorities in the event of a disaster. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit, cell towers and telephone poles were down. Hams mobilized to provide communications. Additional information can be found at the following websites:


Once your equipment in place, start transmitting! Just make sure you're operating on a frequency you're entitled to, and remember to use your call sign to let everyone know you're out there.

It's a Sport

Radiosport is the word, lots of hams on the air all at the same time. Over 10,000 people participated in the  CQ WW (World Wide)  contest in 2008. If the ham bands seem under-populated during the weekdays, just wait until a radiosport weekend. More information at  Arrl Contest Page

Learn the Lingo

You are officially a New Ham. Try to avoid motor boating (low frequency hum) and busted calls (improperly stated call signs) while making the trip (transmitting a message successfully). Continue to gather knowledge and experience and you'll be an Elmer (a ham radio mentor of new hams) in no time. Meanwhile, brush up on your jargon. Also, learn the  NATO phonetic alphabet  for relaying call signs, spelling, abbreviations and numerals.

Further Reading

  • Ham Universe  is a great site with tips for new hams and Elmers alike.

Site updated Jan 2024

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