Amateur (Ham) radio is a service and a hobby. People use it every day as a means of communication around town and around the world. Small handheld devices can let you chat over the air with people nearby and more expensive radio with large antennas can enable someone to talk around the world. Millions of people are involved with Ham radio locally and abroad. So why should you get involved? In the current day of the Internet and Cell Phones, what is the point of Ham radio? I hope to answer those questions and get you involved in this great hobby.
Really, you get to meet and talk with new people all the time. There is probably a local Ham radio club near you that would be happy to have you to a meeting to better explain the ins and outs of the hobby. Ham’s are generally friendly and love nothing more than to talk about the service they provide to the community and the fun they have with this hobby.
There is nothing like your first contact when you get on the air. Either someone in town or on the other side of the world, there is a rush in putting your voice out on the air and getting a response back.
Yes, you have to get a license from the FCC (in the USA) before you can legally go on the air. The entry level license is not very hard to get, there are lots of study guides and even apps for your phone to prepare you for the test. It’s multiple choice and all the questions are already published, so it’s easy to study ahead of time. Many local clubs also offer a weekend class that takes you through the material and administers the test at the end. Once you pass you will be assigned your own callsign and you are ready to go.
There are several inexpensive radios that you can buy to get you up and running quickly. One of those is a small Chinese-built handheld called the Baofeng UV-5R they are about $25 on Amazon. It’s small and is ready to handle the frequencies your new license gives you access to. There are several slightly more expensive, but still approachable radios available from the major manufacturers. Those are Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, and Alinco.
Feel free to ask in the comments, or at your local radio club what people are running and what it is they like about their chosen radio. It’s easy to spend a little or a lot of money, depending on what you want to do.
Once you have your license and your radio you can start helping out your local community. Since the radio does not rely on any secondary infrastructure like cell towers or cables, it can always be counted on in an emergency. Times when cell service is unreliable or not available a Ham radio will still be able to communicate.
Think about a wide spread and lengthy power outage. Cell Phones need the Cell towers to work. Those towers need power, they are all on backup generators, but a power outage lasting several days could render them inoperative. You could use your handheld Ham radio that runs on batteries to talk to other Ham’s to get help you need for you or your neighbors.
In fact, there is a whole group of Ham’s that practice and are called out to help in emergencies, that group is called ARES, Amateur Radio Emergency Service. They are trained to handle communications in emergency situations to help local governments maintain communications when other means fail.
There is another group that works with the National Weather Service (NWS) that are trained to spot tornadoes and other large weather events and provide their observations and reports back to the NWS.
Ham’s also provide communications for local events like marathons, bike races, community activities and parades. Ham radio is reliable and is a great way to get involved with your community.
The test for your license is not that hard, but it does require you to learn some basic electronics theory. Don’t worry, it’s all explained in the classes or the books. But learning this information might give you the base of understanding to go out on your own and learn more. This hobby is all about bettering yourself and others around you. There is a lot you can learn through this hobby that can help you understand the technology around you.
It was Ham radio techniques that lead to WiFi, the Internet and improved over the air TV signals. Even communications with satellites and the Space Station are possible based on the experiments by Ham operations.
You can go as far in the hobby as you want to. If you like just “rag-chewing” or chatting on the local 2 meter (one of the groups of frequencies) repeater with people local to you, that’s great. If you want to challenge yourself to learn more and increase your license level for more privileges that’s awesome also. You will find plenty of people who will be eager to help you along the way. I really recommend that after you get your feet wet with the entry level license that you work towards at least the next class up.
This opens the higher frequency bands that enable you to talk to other Ham’s around the world, there is nothing more exciting than putting out your callsign in the open air and having someone in another country far away from yours answer back.
This hobby is all that you make it into. I tried to keep this guide a little generic so that it applies to more people than just those of us in the US. I will provide some links where you can get more information, or you can feel free to ask me questions in the comments or on my social media pages. Also, feel free to sign up for our email list so you always get the latest content.
Ham radio is a fun and interesting hobby. It is well worth the time and money that you put into it. Who knows maybe we will get a chance to chat on the air.
73! (Ham greeting) from KC7TWW!