Amateur Radio, also called Radio Sport is a hobby to play with radio. It allows licensed operators to speak to and make contacts with other licensed operators around the world. People have said that Amateur Radio is the universal way to make friends around the world. Several famous people are licensed operators and as luck would have it they also come on the air for the enjoyment of all other operators.
The system also allows people who like to experiment with different kinds of radio equipment and modes of radio transmissions. Several small portions of the radio spectrum are set aside for this hobby and operating on these bands requires an Amateur Radio License. The following paragraphs provide more detailed information about various aspects of the hobby.
Amateur Radio Licenses In A Nut Shell
The FCC regulates and monitors the use of the radio spectrum in the US. They allocate a band for each radio transmission including broadcast radio, broadcast TV, police & fire department radios, taxi cabs, trains, weather, satellite, military, navy, amateur etc. The FCC requires each organization to pay for the use of each allocation on a yearly basis. However, a few bands have been set aside for Citizens Band (CB), Family Radio Service (FRS), Remote Control (RC) Toys and Amateur use. Amateurs are required to obtain a simple license and adhere by its rules and regulations. The cost of an amateur radio license is $10 for ten years, compared to thousands for a radio station or millions of dollars for a TV station. The amateur radio licenses are issued individual persons, and the person is designated as a Amateur Radio Operator and his/her location is designated as a Amateur Radio Station. Until recently, it was required to maintain a log of all their activities, however recently these requirements have been relaxed a little and a simple log is sufficient. Essentially the station logs help to remove the station from any suspicion, if any illegal activity was detected in the area.
The FCC issues 3 classes of licenses for Radio Amateurs - Technician, General and Extra, the Technician being the easiest and the following two progressively more involved. The Technician class is the simplest and best suitable for beginners. Each class of license has a self study curriculum and a question pool that is publicly available. A small number of questions are randomly selected for each test. The full list of questions for each class are available at ARRL Question Pools.
ARRL (American Radio Relay League) is the national association for Amateur Radio in the US. Today, with more than 161,000 members, ARRL is the largest organization of radio amateurs in the world. ARRL's mission is based on five pillars: Public Service, Advocacy, Education, Technology, and Membership.
Amateur Radio Bands
The Amateur Radio Bands are sections of the radio spectrum set aside for Radio Amateurs. The bands range from the low 1.8 megahertz (MHz) all the way up to 5 gigahertz (GHz). Each band is roughly a multiple of the frequencies of the lower band, for example, the bands are 1.8, 3.5, 7, 14, 21, 28, 50, 146, 440 MHz, each a rough multiple of one of the lower bands. The reason for these bands will become apparent as one gains more experience.
Each band is a range of frequencies, for example, the 1.8 MHz band ranges from 1.8 MHz to 1.95 MHz, the 3.5Mhz band ranges from 3.5 MHz to 3.9 MHz, and so on. The Band Map lists all the amateur radio bands.
A single radio transmission typically occupies a small bandwidth, compared to the width of a band. So several radio transmissions can take place simultaneously within a band without interfering with each other.
As you gain more experience watching others and doing it yourself, many aspects will become second nature, however here are a few commonly asked questions:
How much will it cost?
Cost is on everyone's mind. Amateur Radio is like most other hobbies. You can start with very little cost by getting a license and joining a club or other radio amateurs (Hams) and sharing their radios. This way you can decide if and how much you want to invest if you want have your own equipment. At the other end, if you want to establish a neat little station and have the resources for it, the limit is up to you.
Why should I take up this hobby?
Again, Amateur Radio is just like most other hobbies. It can provide hours of fun, a chance to meet like minded people and joy of engaging in it. There are no age limits for this hobby, so here are some examples for different age groups:
Children are quite inquisitive and quick learners. Amateur Radio can help them use and implicitly understand various elements of science, math, electrical, electronics, computers, programming in real world situations. They become partners in success, working alongside very understanding and experienced friends. They will also enjoy learning soft skills and team work. This is true for both younger school children as well as older guys/girls going to college. In many cases, these events can also be counted for Public Service hours.
Public events like bicycle rides, marathons, county fairs etc., require the much needed communication ability for organization, safety and emergencies. Especially, events in the country-side that cover large distances lack cell phone coverage and are dependent on people going from place to place. Radio Amateurs, can provide this essential part of the event as well as derive enjoyment by participating in such public events. They can learn new ways to use their skill at communications while delivering an invaluable service, as a volunteer.
It has been said that there nothing worse than boredom. Amateur Radio is a great gift for retired and convalescing people. Amateur Radio has been known to provide an easy and convenient way to keep in touch with friends, lend a ear, join a conversation or provide great advice, all from the comfort of their homes.
What is in it for me?
If you have a very busy life, have to take care of a young family, then chances are that you don't have much free time either. It could also mean that you may not be able to really benefit from the hobby as much as you would have wished. It is quite understandable how you determine your priorities.
Are there any committments?
Amateur Radio is a stress free hobby, there are no committments. We are happy to see you join and will wish you the best when you have to go off to do what you have to do. It is perfectly understandable, if you decide to wait to get your license, or have to pause to take care of life as it evolves. You will always be welcome back anytime, when you so desire.
What are the age requirements?
We have seen children of 3 years get licensed and people of 90+ years holding on theirs. As far as we call tell, "come on in the water is nice!"
Where do I start?
Well, it is quite simple really. Just like getting a driving license, you read a little, get your license and then learn a lot while driving. Same goes here, read a little, do the test, get your license, operate the radio a little and learn a lot of operating tricks and techniques, have a ton of fun.
You can get prepare for the test, in many ways. You can get some help from a neighborhood friendly ham (aka, Elmer) or you can get a study guide. You can also attend one of the very effective ham-cram group study sessions, where synergy helps you study effectively with minimum distractions.
If you study with an Elmer or do self study, there are test sessions almost in every neighborhood. If you attended a ham-cram, there is a good chance they offer the test right at the end. The individual tests cost about $15. If you pass, your application will be submitted to the FCC by the testing group. It may take a few weeks before you get your paper license in the mail. The testing group will explain the licensing process.
Where do I have to go for the test?
There are many testing locations in almost all metropolitan areas and big cities. There may be one down the road from home, school or near work. In some cities, fire stations offer to conduct tests. Test are generally scheduled on specific days, or dates. Several amateur radio cubs, like SBARA, offer tests on specific dates.
For testing dates conducted by the Tri-City VE Group associated with SBARA, click the Licence Exams link in the navigation bar.
Are the tests difficult?
The Technician class license test is an entry level test and focuses mostly on teaching the basic rules and regulations plus a few basic electrical terms. The General class license focuses more on teaching some of the advanced rules & regulations and a bit more of the technical concepts. The Extra level license, implies that you know all the operating rules & regulations and all the technical terms related to Amateur Radio.
So, depending on your study pattern, you may learn quickly or you may need a refresher. Either way, give yourself enough time to prepare well. In any case, there are no negatives for not making it through the first time. But be sure to congratulate yourself when you do pass the test.
I have my license, now what do I do?
This one of the most asked questions. The answer lies in the reason that led you to be excited to get your license. There are many ways you can go from here. You can join in on a conversation or try to see how far your call can go. You could become a communication communication specialist for a local event, or you could train for emergency communications, with your local emergency management group. Otherwise, if you like building things, there are many opportunities to experiment.
If you would like to know more, don't hesitate to attend our monthly club meeting and ask one of our members or join our Yahoo Group "SBARAHAMS".