Amateur Radio, also called Radio Sport allows licensed operators to communicate 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.
Amateur Radio allows people to experiment with different kinds of radio equipment and modes of radio transmissions. Several portions of the radio spectrum are set aside especially for Amateur Radio and operating on these bands requires an Amateur Radio License. The following paragraphs provide more detailed information.
Amateur Radio Licenses In A Nut Shell
The FCC regulates and monitors the use of the radio spectrum in the US. Every commercial broadcast radio & TV station, police & fire departments, taxi cabs, trains, weather, satellite, military, navy, amateur and space communications are all allotted a specific band for their use. Each organization pays thousands or more every year, for the use of their band.
However, a few bands have been set aside for Citizens Band (CB), Family Radio Service (FRS), Remote Control (RC) Toys and Amateur Radio. All these except Amateur Radio are severely restricted both by number of bands and allowable maximum power. Radio Amateurs enjoy a much large number of bands and much higher power levels but are required to obtain a license and adhere by FCC rules and regulations. The cost of an Amateur Radio license is $10 for ten years and could be renewed for free.The Amateur Radio licenses are issued to individual persons, designated as an Amateur Radio Operator and his/her location designated as an Amateur Radio Station. FCC required that every Amateur Radio station maintain a log of all its activities, however, recently these requirements have been relaxed a little and a simple log is considered sufficient. Essentially, the station logs help protect the station in case any illegal activity was detected in the area.
The FCC issues 3 classes of licenses for Radio Amateurs - Technician, General and Extra. The Technician is the easiest and best suitable for beginners. The other two license classes are progressively more involved. Each class of license has a self study curriculum and a publicly published question pool and a small number of questions are randomly selected from this pool for the test. The full list of questions for each class is 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 USA. 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 is to provide a large area of the spectrum for Radio Amateurs while avoiding possible harmonic interference to other bands.
Each band is a range of frequencies, for example, the 1.8 MHz band ranges from 1.8 MHz to 1.95 MHz, the 3.5 MHz band ranges from 3.5 MHz to 3.9 MHz, and so on. The Amateur Radio Band Map provides a detailed list of frequencies allocated for Radio Amateurs in the US. Each radio transmission typically occupies a small bandwidth in the band. So several radio transmissions can take place simultaneously within the band without causing interference to one another. As you gain more experience watching many aspects will become second nature, however below 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 when and how much you would want to invest and 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 become a Radio Amateur?
Amateur Radio like most other hobbies or pastimes (like boating or singing, etc.) can provide hours of joy and a chance to meet like minded people. There are no age limits for this hobby, so here are some examples we have seen from different groups of people:
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 and more, in real world applications. They become "partners in success" working alongside very understanding and experienced friends. They also enjoy learning soft skills and team work. This is true for both younger school children as well as older teenagers going to college. In many cases, helping in Amateur Radio events can be counted as 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 an 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, and 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 commitments?
Amateur Radio is stress free, there are no commitments. 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 and learn a lot of tricks and techniques, and have a ton of fun.
You can 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 like BAEARS, where synergy helps you study 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 too. The individual tests cost roughly about $15. If you pass, your application will be submitted to the FCC by the testing group and it may take a few weeks before you get your paper license in the mail. The testing group can explain the licensing process.
Where do I have to go for the test?
There are testing locations in almost all metropolitan areas and big cities. There may be one down the road from your home, school or work. In some cities, fire stations too offer to conduct tests. Tests are generally scheduled on specific dates, so be sure check the calendars before heading out to take the test. Several amateur radio cubs, like SBARA, also offer tests. For testing dates offered by the Tri-City VE Group associated with SBARA, click here License Exams.
Are the tests difficult?
The Technician class license test is an entry level test and focuses mostly on the basic rules and regulations plus a few basic electrical terms. The General class license focuses more on some more rules & regulations and some more of the electrical/electronics concepts. The Extra level license implies that you know all the operating rules & regulations and understand the technical terms related to Amateur Radio.
So, depending on your study pattern, you may learn quickly or you may just 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 tests.
Now that I got my license, what do I do?
This one of the most frequently asked questions. The answer lies in the passion that led you to become a Radio Amateur. There are many ways you can go from here. You can start by making friends and contacts or see how far your radio signal can go. You could volunteer to be a communication specialist for a public event like a race, marathon, etc. You could train for emergency communications with your local emergency management group and offer to help in emergencies and disasters. If you are a "maker" and like to experiment and build things, the opportunities are almost limitless.
In any case, don't hesitate to attend our monthly club meeting or join the SBARAHAMS@Groups.io and ask questions.
[updated Jan 20, 2019]