What is Ham Radio?

By Chuck Gysi

By Chuck Gysi

In this article:

Ham radio enables local and worldwide communication

The technology used by police officers, firefighters, the military and others in emergency response activities also can be used by civilians by simply obtaining an amateur radio license. Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, allows Americans to obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission allowing them to talk on a variety of frequencies and radio bands to other licensed hams for personal, not-for-profit communications and technical training.

Communications can be around your city, around your state, around the country, around the world — and even into space. (Hams can talk through satellites to a wider area on earth as well as with astronauts aboard the space shuttle — and even can bounce their radio signals off the moon!)

From shortwave to VHF and UHF, amateur radio operators are active on multiple radio bands

Hams use 28 frequency bands from below the AM broadcast band up into the microwaves. The most popular ham bands include worldwide shortwave segments, VHF and UHF. The latter two bands offer primarily regional communications capabilities and are popular for handheld and mobile communications on a more local basis.

Hams have a variety of modes to communicate, ranging from AM, FM and sideband signals, to digital modes, television signals, remote control of model aircraft and drones — and much more! Hams no longer need to learn Morse code, however, some do like to transmit in that mode to send their signals worldwide.The frequencies hams use are exclusive for the most part except for some minor sharing with other radio services or users.

Three types of licenses are available for ham radio operators

The three current types of licenses issued by the FCC give increasingly additional frequencies and higher power limits for hams to use as you advance in the ranks from technician to general and then to extra. The FCC’s ham exams include a variety of questions about radio regulations, operating practices, electronics theory, radio equipment design and safety. Communications by ham operators is non-commercial in nature and even may be used to assist in emergencies and disasters.

Spend as little as $25 to thousands of dollars to get on the air with ham radio

Hams can get on the air with equipment ranging from inexpensive import handheld radios, such as the popular $25ish Baofeng UV-5R, to classy full-featured shortwave transceivers in their home stations that can cost more than five figures.

Local ham radio clubs can help you get your station on the air

Local amateur radio clubs are a good source of information about becoming a ham and getting help to put the first station on the air. Take the FCC ham exam and join the 2 percent of Americans — about 750,000 — who have taken the ham radio exam and are active on the airwaves talking to other amateurs around the world!