How To Become A Ham
Being an amateur radio operator is a fun and a very rewarding hobby. In the US, you can start with an "Amateur Technician Class" license issued by the FCC. Enjoy clear 2-way FM communication using repeaters, in some cases hundreds of miles away, with just a small handheld radio like the one pictured below. You can even talk to astronauts on the International Space Station. You might decide to jump in with "both feet" first using a larger home-based radio like the bottom image. Join us!
In order to qualify for an amateur radio license, you must pass certain tests to determine that you have the required knowledge. Fortunately, the tests are not terribly difficult for most people. There are three license levels (known as classes) where each class grants greater privileges to the individual. There is a single written test for each license class. The license classes are:
- Technician Class - this is the entry-level license. It gives privileges on all amateur frequencies above 50 Mhz and is the most popular. It requires only a written test.
- General Class - this is the mid-level license. It enables privileges on most amateur frequencies below 50 Mhz and includes global HF (shortwave) communications. It has its own written test.
- Extra Class - this is the highest level license. It grants privileges on all amateur frequencies. It has its own written test and requires that you also have passed all of the Technician and General class written tests.
Don't let the words Federal Communications Commission scare you. While amateur radio licensing is governed by the FCC the exam is not given by the FCC or its agents, but rather it administered by VE's or "Volunteer Examiners". The VE's are hams that hold licenses that are at least one grade (up to Extra Class) higher than the test they are administering. VE's are not compensated for their time and do this work for the benefit of the community and hobby. A small fee (determined by the FCC) is collected by the VE to cover the costs of the testing materials, rental of testing space, etc.