Monday, August 11, 2008

Ham Radio, Get Your License - Communicate With The World

Ok let's not get carried away, how about communicating with neighboring states. The first step in the world of ham radio is the technician's license. The license is easy to get and with it you can communicate on all bands above 50 MHz using voice (you can communicate on additional frequencies using morse and digital). The most common you will probably use initially are 6 meter, 2 meter and 440 centimeter.

From the ARRL's website:
"Amateur Radio is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the Communications Act of 1934. It is also subject to numerous international agreements. All Amateur Radio operators must be licensed. In the U.S. there are three license classes. Each successive level of license comes with an expansion of privileges. Your entry into Amateur Radio begins with a Technician Class License.

Earning each license requires passing an examination. Although regulated by the FCC, license exams are given by volunteer groups of Amateur Radio operators. Operating under organizations called Volunteer Examiner Coordinators, volunteers administer and grade tests and report results to the FCC, which then issues the license. U.S. licenses are good for 10 years before renewal, and anyone may hold one except a representative of a foreign government."

I am going to be a bit frank here and some hams may not like it. The test is 35 questions ALL of which are available with the answers in a study guide. I would be lying if I said I understood all of them when I took the test. I basically memorized the questions pool and got a 100% on the test. I believe that once you have the license, start using the radio and get experience it will make up for your little deception.

When I first got into Ham radio I was just looking to chat with folks on 2m/440 on the commute home. A magical thing started to happen once I started using the radio...I became interested in it more and started to actually want to learn and understand all those things I memorized on the test.

Preparing for the test
There are many sources that can be utilized to prepare for the technician's exam:

On-line practice exams:

Online class offered by the ARRL can be taken.

Self-Study (The route I took) using the book.
Arrl Ham Radio License Manual: All You Need to Become an Amateur Radio Operator (Arrl Ham Radio License Manual)

I read the book and understood what I could...the question pool and answers are in the book as well. I then used the free exams at QRZ until I was getting 100% every time.

Once you are ready:
The thing you will have to do next once you are ready to take the exam is find some place that is offering it. Remember this is run by volunteers so you may have to travel a bit.

You can visit the ARRL again and search for an exam using their search query. If there is a contact number make sure you call to verify the exam will actually be happening and the information is not outdated.

What do I need to bring to the exam:
Once again the ARRL says it best so here is what they have on their website:
"Exam sessions are conducted by volunteers working under the direction of the FCC. There will likely be a charge for taking the exam. There is no FCC fee for an initial license, or standard changes to a license. However, there are fees for other FCC services. The exam fee is set by the local exam administrator, the Volunteer Exam Coordinator (VEC), and is usually $14 or less. Contact the exam session administrator to determine the fee that applies to the exam session you plan to attend.

Bring a picture ID (drivers license, passport) OR, when no photo ID is available, two forms of identification must be presented (birth certificate, report card, library card, Social Security card, utility bill, bank statement, etc.). Students may bring a school ID, and/or a written note from a legal guardian. To be prepared you should also bring two number two pencils with erasers and a pen. A calculator with the memory erased is allowed. You may not bring any written notes or calculations into the exam session."

The equipment used by the technician class is more reasonably priced than those $500-10,000 racks of equipment you see some folks on HF using. You can pick up a handheld which was my first radio for about $100 bucks. I got a nice Kenwood 2m/440 mobile rig for less than $300. If you plan on using a mobile rig in the house you will need a power supply which can be had very cheaply as well. The only other thing you will need is an antenna (the handheld will come with one), for the mobile rig, get a decent one and mount it as high as you can at your location to get the best range and reception.

You will definitely get a crash course in programming your radio because most communications occur on linked repeater networks. The networks take a signal and "repeat" it effectively making the signal travel farther than it would normally. These repeaters require codes to be programmed into your radio to use them. Pick up a copy of the Repeater Directory Pocket 2008/2009 (Arrl Repeater Directory) and it will list 99% of the repeaters in your area with all the needed programming information.

Ham radio really is a fun hobby but it is also serious business. Many times when all communications are knocked out a ham with and HF rig, battery and antenna can communicate half way around the world. Hams have always been there to lend a hand to Emergency Management Service if needed. Ham radio is a community of folks who enjoy the hobby but also enjoy serving others. Will you encounter the occasional jerk off?...of course, by and large though many Hams will help you any way they can with regard to the hobby, radios and theory. They are a fine bunch of folks.

...that is all.

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  1. It is a heck of a lot easier now then it was years ago. I got mine while I was in grade school when they had the Novice class with the 5 words per minute morse code test.

    I ended up getting the technician and the General class license within a few years of my novice.

    It is easy if you memorize everything but once you start really getting into it you need to know what your doing when it comes to antennas and grounding your radios. It's a really cool hobbie and can really save you when all other communication goes down.

  2. That is exactly my point. There really is no excuse not to go and at least get your tech license and see if you have some fun with it...and learn a thing or two in the process.

  3. There is no excuse. You don't even need to learn morse code to get started... although CW (morse code) communications will often get through bad conditions when no other form will. Plus, Ham Radio is fun. The sky's the limit on what you can do: local, worldwide, talk to the space shuttle at times, bounce signals off of the moon and back(E-M-E), and more. I've had mine for 12+ years and I still enjoy it.
    -Great survival preparedness skill too!