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Welcome to the world of Amateur Radio! Amateur Radio is commonly referred to as Ham Radio, and the operators are regularly called “Hams”.
Amateur radio encompasses a vast array of subjects and genres. There are topics for everyone to enjoy. If one area doesn’t pique your interest, there are many others to consider.
Here is a list of some of the more popular areas of Amateur Radio:
-Emergency Services, known formally as RACES/ARES
-Volunteering for community events. Check out our events page.
-Electrical experimenting/DIY projects. There are several kits available for those who like to build their own and learn as they go. Soldering is a useful skill to learn!
-Contesting: Test your mettle as you try and make as many contacts with your radio within a given time frame. Submit your log and see how your points stack up against operators in your class.
-Digital Modes: Let your computer do the talking for you through your radio. These are the most efficient methods of communication and the protocols are continuously improving.
-Classic Modes: CW (Morse Code) and AM are still very popular on the air. CW is almost as efficient as digital modes, so it allows you to talk much further with modest equipment. Depending on conditions you can make a CW contact thousands of miles away with only a few watts of power.
-Simply talking to the world or your backyard: Plenty of people just enjoy rag chewing, whether its with their local friends on 2M repeaters, or on HF with people around the world.
-SatCom: Talk to people via satellites in the sky. You can listen in to the Space Station, or utilize one of the many repeaters mounted on satellites to make a VHF contact hundreds of miles away.
-EME: Earth-Moon-Earth: An advanced topic where Hams bounce a signal off the moon to talk to other terrestrial operators.
Starting a journey with radio can be as simple as listening on a shortwave receiver or going on WebSDR and listening live to someone else’s receiver. However, if you’d like to transmit, you’ll need a license from the FCC. Studying is pretty straightforward, and is free at HamStudy
Study for the Technician test. If you pass that you’ll have transmitting privileges mostly on VHF/UHF. This will allow you to talk locally on repeaters or even directly with other Hams within range of your radio. You can even talk on the satellites with just a Technician class license!
If you pass the Technician test, you’ll be asked if you would like to try for the next level, General. The General license class will grant you privileges on most of every HF band. These are the bands that people use to talk around the world. Range is widely predicated on not just your equipment, but also the current solar cycle. Its a pretty interesting to learn how the sun and its sun spots affect how far your radio signal will travel.
The third tier of radio licensing is the Extra class. If you pass the first two tests in one go, you can test for the Extra class and get full privileges from day one! Granted, it will take a tremendous amount of studying to accomplish this. Most people take one test at a time to give themselves ample time for studying between tests. The Extra class grants you full privileges on all Amateur Radio bands. Its definitely not necessary to enjoy HF, but rather seen as a challenge to be conquered.
The ARRL is a vast resource to the new Ham. They sell a variety of instructional books, as well as hosting the QST Magazine. They are the advocates for Amateur Radio and fight to maintain our access to the bands. If you’re more of a visual learner, you will find an endless supply of Youtube videos on whatever radio topic you like.
Getting your license is just the beginning. A lot of people call it a “license to learn”. This hobby is all about learning. Be careful though, it can be addicting, and some have even become electrical engineers after. Consider yourself warned!