Amateur Radio (ham radio) is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics and communication together. People use ham radio to talk across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the Internet or cell phones. It’s fun, social, educational, and can be a lifeline during times of need.
The amateur radio service (amateur service and amateur-satellite service) is established by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) through the International Telecommunication Regulations. National governments regulate technical and operational characteristics of transmissions and issue individual stations licenses with an identifying call sign. Prospective amateur operators are tested for their understanding of key concepts in electronics and the host government’s radio regulations. Radio amateurs use a variety of voice, text, image, and data communications modes and have access to frequency allocations throughout the RF spectrum to enable communication across a city, region, country, continent, the world, or even into space.
Amateur radio is officially represented and coordinated by the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU), which is organized in three regions and has as its members the national amateur radio societies which exist in most countries. According to an estimate made in 2011 by the American Radio Relay League, two million people throughout the world are regularly involved with amateur radio. About 830,000 amateur radio stations are located in IARU Region 2 (the Americas) followed by IARU Region 3 (South and East Asia and the Pacific Ocean) with about 750,000 stations. A significantly smaller number, about 400,000, are located in IARU Region 1 (Europe, Middle East, CIS, Africa).
Frequencies and Transmitting Modes
Hams use a variety of frequencies for communications. Non-hams can “listen in” via their own receivers orradio scanners. Hams are able to use many frequency bands across the radio spectrum — these frequencies are allocated by the FCC for amateur use. Hams may operate from just above the AM broadcast band to the microwave region, in the gigahertz range. Many ham bands are found in the frequency range that goes from above the AM radio band (1.6 MHz) to just above the citizens band (27 MHz). During daylight, 15 to 27 MHz is a good band for long-distance communications. At night, the band from 1.6 to 15 MHz is good for long-distance communications. These bands are often referred to historically as short-wave bands (as in “short-wave radio”). Unlike frequencies used by FM radio stations and TV stations, which are line-of-sight and therefore limited to 40 or 50 miles, short-waves “bounce” off the ionosphere from the transmitter to the receiver’s antenna. The higher the frequency is, the “shorter” the wavelength is.
Some ham radio operators use the very reliable Morse code, while others use voice. Morse code signals (beeps) often get through when voice transmissions cannot. There are also very many digital modes as well, and hams use radio modems to communicate in various networks.
Why would I get into ham radio?
Ham radio is for anyone who likes to communicate with others via wireless technology. It is also for anyone who enjoys experimentation. Licensed amateur radio operators communicate with each other in nearby places, across the country, around the world or even with astronauts in outer space!
Amateur radio is a worldwide group of people who communicate with each other over a wide frequency spectrum using many different types of wireless transmitting modes.
You need an easy-to-earn license to transmit on an amateur radio frequency. License tests cover electronics theory and amateur radio rules and regulations. Study guides are readily available. There is no age restriction. Each country has its own licensing arrangements. Many countries share many of the same frequency bands with hams in the United States. Each license class allows operation in certain bands, using certain modes. The higher the class of license, the more allowable frequency bands that are available for use.
Recently, the FCC relaxed the Morse code requirements portion of the rules to make it easier to get an amateur radio operator’s license. The FCC’s new licensing plan means you will be able to become a ham by passing a single 35-question written examination. License study guides are readily available for the written test.
Below are some books that will help jump-start you in the HAM radio hobby.