Why should I become an amateur radio operator? Many amateurs began very young with an interest in electronics and found amateur radio as a hobby with much satisfaction. Others with experience of cell phone overloads want amateur radio as a backup for emergency communications and want to serve their community. Still others enjoy communicating with random friends around the world perhaps even using such archaic mechanisms as Morse code and improving their skills at such. Many others enjoy chasing ratings and certificates such as communicating with all US states, or all continents, and many variations of such. Still others like complex schemes such as communicating with the International Space Station, bouncing signals off the moon, or seeing how far they can communicate with the lowest power equipment. Becoming an amateur connects you to a diverse group with a wide variety of interests.
Do I need to learn Morse code? Not any more, but it’s still fun.
How much will it cost? It depends upon what you want to do. Hand held “walkie talkies” are available on-line for $25. These have more transmitter power and range than the unlicensed versions. You can attach a good antenna to them to extend the range even farther. The FCC license fee is $35. More advanced stations require a bigger investment in electronics and space. Top of the line transceivers and antennas may cost tens of thousands of dollars and require multiple acres for a large antenna “farm”.
I live in a small apartment. Can I do this? Yes. Most equipment is not large and there are many antenna designs especially made for small spaces. You may not be allowed to put an antenna on the roof or outside your area. There are safety concerns with high power transmitters.
My HOA prohibits outdoor antennas. The FCC has ruled that HOA’s are very limited in how they can restrict antennas. You can’t go over your property line, be unsafe or violate city zoning codes but by and large, antennas on roofs can not be prohibited.
How much time do I need to spend? It’s not a huge time commitment unless you chose. You need a few 10’s of hours to study for the initial Technician license exam and then as much time as you find interesting after that. It’s not something you have to do every day, week or month.
Why should I join a club? A club is a great place to get help. Most members are more than happy to answer questions or help with antennas, ground wires and give endless advice free of charge. A neighbor that’s a ham can be a big help but may not know everything. Somebody in a club is bound to have the answer or at least an opinion or two.
Is it safe? Yes, within reason and your license training will prepare you to be so.
Can my children participate? They can use your radio if you are supervising or they can get their own license. Children under 10 have licenses and the record is a five and a half year old girl in California (and she even had to learn Morse code).
Why do I need a license? To indicate that you know how to use radio. There are many users of the radio frequency spectrum: AM stations, FM stations, aviation, the military, medical devices, first responders, cell phones, GPS, radio astronomy, and so on. We all have our allotted frequencies and maximum power so that we don’t get in each other’s way. Like a driver’s license, it proves to the world that you know what you can and cannot do. Your call sign is your identifier to the world.
Is it private? No. Anything you say over the radio can be heard by anybody within the range of your transmitter which, in some cases, can be nearly anywhere in the world.
How do I get a license? Study for the technician class license, take a test, pay your $35 to the FCC, pass the test, get your license from the FCC. Your license is good for 10 years at which time you just renew it (no more testing).
I have a math phobia. I don’t test well. I know nothing about electronics. Can I still get a license? Yes. The technician license doesn’t require any advanced mathematics, the testing is simple multiple-choice. 35 questions and you usually have 2 hours to complete. For some of the questions, you can memorize the answers or just guess – you don’t have to get 100% to pass. You’ll have to learn a minimal amount of electronics and how to recognize their symbols in circuit diagrams (they’re sort of an emoji) but there’s only 3 or 4 such questions.
My license expired, what can I do? You have a 2 year grace period to pay the license renewal fee, after that, you’ll need to start over.
I have FRS radios. Do I need a license? Can I talk to hams on them? No and no.
I have high power GMRS radios for my ORV. Do I need a license? Yes, but not an amateur license. You register on-line with the FCC and pay your $35. You then get e-mailed a PDF license you can print and a call sign to go with it. Like a license plate, these are specific to you and your immediate family. There’s no need to pass a test but you need to say your call sign every 15 minutes of on-air time: “This is WRYT968calling Nancy Wooster“. You can talk to other FRS radios and they won’t have a call sign but other high power GMRS radios will need a call sign.
I just want to play with electronics. Why do I need a license? You don’t unless you want to build a transmitter that works on amateur frequencies. There are plenty of frequencies available that don’t need a license, at least for low power. These Industrial, Scientific and Medical bands (ISM) support things like LoRa that don’t need a license. If you want to do moon bounce, satellite communications and the like, you will need a license.
I have disabilities. Can I still get a license? Absolutely! https://handiham.org/ is devoted to this community with many active local members that participate in our club.
I don’t like to talk to people I don’t know.Why would I need a license? Tracking things like dogs, rockets, or endangered species may require more power or lower frequency than you’re allowed on the ISM bands. There are other operating modes, some of which work just like the internet (and no advertising allowed).
Can I do this outdoors? You bet! Many amateurs participate in outdoor activities from single hikers on a mountain top to groups working in nice places.
I hear radio amateurs are just sedentary old guys. Some of us are and some of us aren’t. We welcome all types, all physiques, all genders, no AI bots please.