Ham Radio for beginners

Ham Radio For Beginners – Ham Radio Guide

Ham radio experience is a remarkable one.

And if you have been in this for a while, I know you know the feeling.

But what if you’re just looking into this as a new hobby?

The truth is: you’re about to be part of a big community of Ham geek hobby enthusiasts and the experience will blow your mind!

There were about 765,000 Ham operators in the USA as of 2019 and around 3 million worldwide

It’s not just about holding a nice gadget and using it to communicate with folks all over. Its beauty lies in the transformation.

You’re properly wondering, “Why Ham radio?”

Ham radios are reliable and affordable. It’s possible to miss out on news or emergency update with the normal communication systems.

However, Ham radio will always set you ahead of the pack since its transmission and reception are never affected by bad weather. This means you will always stay updated when bad weather damages communication infrastructure.

Besides, you’ll be getting constant updates from Ham users nearby. But what’s more amazing is that you can learn and master the skill.

There’s more to learn about Ham radio. That’s why I have compiled this jam-packed guide for beginners with tons of value for you.

So, let’s get started!

What is Ham Radio?

Ham Radios are also known as Amateur Radios.

But what are they?

Well, this is the use of a specialized set of radio frequencies to pass information from one user to another. The users are spread all over the world and they use Ham radio for non-commercial purposes.

More often than not, these include; emergency communication, radio sport, contests, self-training, or private recreation. This is what makes it a popular hobby. It brings people together, thereby creating a community of Ham users all over the world.

As a member of the community, you interact with other users in your neighborhood, town, country, the whole world, and even outside space. Isn’t that fun?

What makes them more reliable is that you can set and use them anywhere. You can have one in the open field, a club station or at home. The location doesn’t really matter!

But this is not all to Ham radios. There are a ton more benefits than you can imagine.

Benefits of Ham Radio

a) Local Emergency awareness: You are likely to experience disappointments and delays with the local TV news channels.

What’s even worse is the wrong information that is peddled on social media. What would you do in such circumstances?

Ham radios are reliable and you will always get the news on time when there’s an emergency.

Better still, the information comes from the source and you can rely on its credibility.

While everyone will be waiting for a secondary reporting from the media, you will stay ahead of them. With this radio, you get the info while it’s hot.

b) Uninterrupted Connections during Disasters: Bad weather and other acts of God have a way of interfering with the normal communication channels.

Ham radio for beginners

At such times, radio broadcasts become super useful. Ham radio enables you to stay connected with your community even when there are power outages

c) Learnable Skill: It’s easy to operate a Ham radio. All you need are the right set of skills. The good news is that you can acquire the skills stress-free.

Once you’re well equipped, you’re good to launch into the coveted experience. You can either enroll for classes or go on a self -studying mode.

It’s that simple!

Wait a sec, don’t you think it’s worth knowing how all these started? Right…that’s what I’m about to show you.


General Ham Radio Links
FCC Amateur Radio Service Official Website
ARRL – American Radio Relay League
International Amateur Radio Union
Winlink 2000 (WL2K) Global Radio Email System

History of Ham Radio

In the 1890s Guglielmo Marconi – an Italian inventor- championed the use of radio waves into the communication systems which later led to the birth of the amateur radio.

First, amateur radio users connected over wired telegraph systems. Shortly after that, the wireless system was adopted by Ham users.

In 1904, some 8th graders made a transmitter together with a receiver. This worked well within an 8 miles range.

In 1906, two teenagers from Rhode Island built a wireless station in a chicken coop.

In 1908, the first wireless telegraph club was established. Today this is known as the New Colombia University Amateur Radio Club.

Fast forward, after the two world wars, new amateur radio bands were established in 1972. These included 30m, 17m, and 12m.

In the present times, Ham users identify these as WARC bands. But much later on, the Morse code proficiency test was eliminated.

This test had put a limitation on the number of Ham users globally. Today, you can easily be a part of this international community. Thanks to the international communications union.

A good story never ends. That’s why the story of Ham radio keeps going. Over the course of time, there have been other types of radio. I have a couple that you should know about.


Types of Radios

a). Amateur “Ham” Radio

Ham Radio

Amateur radio is also known as Ham radio. This type of radio uses radio frequencies to pass information from one user to another.

It’s worth noting that ham radios used for non-commercial purposes. Some of these include emergency communication, radio sport, contests, self-training, and private recreation.

b). Citizen’s Band (CB)

The CB radio is a two-way land mobile radio that allows bi-directional voice communication between two persons.

The radio operates in 40 channels and works well under short distances and a high frequency of 27 MHz.

CB Radio

It’s also worth noting that the radio can be stationary, portable, or mobile. Compared to Ham radio, Citizen’s Band radio doesn’t require licensing.

Besides, you can use it for commercial purposes as well as personal communications.

c). Family Radio Service (FRS)

FRS is a better version of Walkie talkie radio that is immune to interferences effects associated with citizen’s Band radio.

FRS uses 462 MHz and 467 MHz channelized frequencies in the ultra-high frequency band.

Family Radio Service
Midland – LXT630VP3, 36 Channel FRS

Besides, the radio operates on frequency modulation (FM), unlike other radios that operate on amplitude modulation (AM).

FRS is versatile and can be used both for commercial and non-commercial purposes.

Often, it’s used as a low-cost option by businesses since it doesn’t require licensing.

d). General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)

GMRS is a handheld and portable radio device that shares a frequency with FRS radios. This means they operate around 462 and 467 MHz UHF band.

While the use of this radio requires licensing in some countries, for others it’s license-free. For example, in the US, you require licensing to own the radio.

The best part is that the immediate family members are covered by a single license. Therefore, family members can communicate amongst themselves stress-free for personal or business reasons.

On the flip side, employees of the business are not covered by the license. Therefore, it’s illegal for them to use the radio.

General Mobile Radio Service
Midland GXT1050VP4 50 Channel GMRS

Moreover, this radio is designed to operate on frequency modulation (FM) and ultra-high frequency (UHF) over short distances.

e). Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS)

MURS, like Citizen’s Band, are a licensed bidirectional radio that allows communication exchange between two persons.

Multi-Use Radio Service
Dakota Alert M538-HT MURS

Also, this communication takes place in the very high-frequency bands while the radio is running at a maximum power consumption of 2 watts.

The radio is licensed for both personal and commercial purposes. And the good part is that its use is open to the general public.

f). DMR Radio

Digital mobile radio (DMR) can use either ultra-high-frequency or very high-frequency bands.

The radio operates on time-division multiple access (TDMA) technology that allows users to access the frequency channel at specific times.

By this, each signal is divided into specific time slots and at 12.5 kHz.

DMR Radio

That’s all for types of radios. In this guide, the focus is on Ham radio, and in the next section, you’ll discover all the types of Ham radio.


Types of Ham Radio

Ham radio is designed for different sets of operations. For each type of Ham radio, there are features that enable a particular type of use.

Also, a key influencer in this is the expected range of contact between the main participants in the communication channel.

Here are some of the types of Ham radio based on the above features.

  • Handheld Ham RadioThis type has transmitter outputs for FM voice, and operates on VHF and UHF bands. More importantly, you can only use it when it’s held in your hands hence the name “handheld”. Also, for power sources, the radio runs on rechargeable batteries.
Handheld Ham Radio
  • Mobile Ham RadioThis type is made exclusively for operation in vehicles. It runs on FM voice, VHF and UHF bands. Besides, with this radio, you will need a direct current power supply for it to work well.
Mobile Ham Radio
  • Base Ham Radio – This kind is designed for fixed and stationary use. It’s super powerful and operates on a high volume supply of power.
Base Ham Radio

Ham Radio Licenses

Being a Ham radio user requires licensing so that you don’t find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

1. Types of Ham Licenses

Before 1999, there were up to 6 Ham licenses that FCC expected Ham users to have.

In 2000 after lengthy consultative meetings, FCC reduced the number to the current three. These include; Technician, General, and Amateur Extra.

License acquisition is progressive and you have to pass the test on one level so that you progress to the next.

a) Technician License

This license is used by beginners or entry-level Hams. To get this license, you must take an exam of 35 questions on radio theory.

The test will also check how well you know the radio regulations in your jurisdiction and how to operate a Ham radio.

This license limits the frequencies in which you can transmit or receive signals. Therefore, you’re confined to below 30 MHz.

This will only enable you to have local communications since the range only permits this.

For international connections, the license allows limited access and privileges to HF bands.

b) General License

To attain this license, you must pass the Technician level in addition to a 35 questions test exam.

The benefits of this license include all the features in the Technical level and additional privileges of access to most of the HF bands.

The test objectives at this level are the same as the Technician’s level. The only difference is that they cover more details under General license.

c) Amateur Extra License

This is the topmost level of Ham licensing. At this level, you will have access privileges to multiple High-Frequency bands.

To get the license, you must pass a test exam of 50 questions of which you must answer 37 correctly to qualify.

The test is quite complex compared to the previous levels and entails more rules and regulations and high-level technical topics.

2. How to Get a Ham Radio License

As an amateur radio enthusiast, you’ll need to register for radio classes– Technician and General– before you can get your license.

Here are the exact steps you need to take so that you secure your license.

Step 1: Carry Out Technician Exam Research

This exam is relatively easy and you get your license without much struggle.

There are four main topics that are covered at this level. Therefore, you need to acquaint yourself with these topics before taking the exam.

These topics include; procedures of operations, regulations, and rules, amateur radio theory, and basic electronic knowledge.

Ideally, this level prepares you for the next levels and assesses whether you know the amateur radio operation basics.

Also, the research at this stage familiarizes you with 400 questions. Normally, the 35 test questions are taken from the pool of 400 questions.

Step 2: Get Study Resources

Having access to the 400 questions is not all you need. You need to learn and acquire knowledge which you can use to answer the exam questions.

You can opt for self-study or register for online classes. The best tools that will enable you to achieve your goal are books or other online tools like AARL online course.

The good part is that these materials are available free of charge on some websites. Therefore, it won’t cost you much.

However, a great option is to join a Ham club. Besides getting access to study materials, you also get to interact with seasoned Ham enthusiasts.

Step 3: Schedule An Exam Date

Being in touch with a local Ham radio club is essential at this stage. This is because it’s the local Ham radio clubs that administer the exams and they do it monthly.

Since the clubs have set different exam dates for different states, you will need to enquire when you can sit for your exam depending on your state.

Apart from this, the club shall inform you how much you need to pay as your exam fees.

Step 4: Get Acquainted with The Practice Test

By taking these online demo tests, you prepare yourself psychologically for the real exam.

The more you take these sample questions, the more you increase your chances of passing the main exam.

Expert opinion says that getting 80-90% is a sign that you are on the right track and your chances of passing the real exams are high.

Step 5: Sit for The Exam

After adequate preparation, it’s time to sit for the exam and get your license.

When taking the exam, you need to carry your identification documents. This can be your national ID card, passport, or a driving license.

Probably you’re thinking of taking the exam online. Unfortunately, this is not possible as FCC doesn’t allow it.

Therefore, the only option is to make a physical appearance in one of the exam centers so that your identification is verified by the exam volunteers. This is also a way of curbing cheating.

Also, the test will cost you about $15 and you get your license one week after successfully passing the exam.

To check the progress of your application online, you need to follow a few simple steps.

Step 1: Access the FCC website.

Step 2: On the top navigation tab, find the licensing database and click it.

Step 3: Clicking on the licensing database tab should direct you to a universal licensing system. It’s abbreviated as ULS for easy identification.

Step 4: Click on ULS and a search option appears. Use this to search for your application.

Step 5: For search type, you need to go for the general option. To get the best results, you should be clear on your search terms. On the search field, you can use your license name or your file number.

3. Ham Radio License Renewal

Now that you have your amateur radio license. What’s next? It’s time to have some fun and share moments with Hams all over the world.

But have you stopped for a second and asked yourself for how long you’ll be having these privileges?

The good news is that you’ll have ample time before you’re prompted to renew your license.

10 years. Yes! You have 10 years of uninterrupted moments to interact with other members of the community.

But time passes by so fast. Finally, your 10 years are over and it’s time to renew the license. Like everyone else, you will be concerned about how much the renewal fee will cost.

You don’t have to worry about this…when its time, login to the FCC website and launch your application.

If there are any fees required, ULS will let you know when you submit the application.

But what happens if you operate a Ham radio without a license? Ideally, there are two sides to this.

Either you are inexperienced and you haven’t taken your text exams or your license has expired.

In both cases, your actions are likely to attract legal actions if you’re caught by the authorities since you are unlawfully operating a ham radio

And if you are inexperienced you’re likely to send the wrong signals hence causing confusion in the community.

License Practice Tests & Resources
Ham Exam – Purchasable software that allows users to practice for their ham radio exams
Ham Test Online – A great online fee-based Ham radio test site
QRZ Test Prep – A site to prepare for your ham radio test
Radio Exams – Practice tests for potential ham radio operators
Gordon West Radio School -Training materials

4. Ham Radio Call Signs

Have you got your license yet? When you do, it’ll feel like the best achievement ever. But first, you need to check your call sign.

A call sign is a unique on-air identification on your license that makes you different from other Hams.

The best part is that you can modify call signs to settle on the one that works best for you.

So, how does FCC assign call signs? They use prefixes and suffixes. Right between the two, there is a numeral. And the prefix and suffix are letters.

An example would be “J1AX”. Each letter and number is independent and is pronounced individually as J- 1- A- X.

Sometimes the prefix and suffix are assigned two or more letters. An example looks like this; KP or NL. This is the format that FCC follows to ensure every Ham gets a unique call sign.

Also, you need to note that the numerical represents a specific region. Therefore, every call sigh is unique to a region.

This system is known as the sequential call sign system.

Finding an available call sign should be simple. Login to the FCC website the use ULS to search for an available call sign.

However, doing this is quite a hurdle and it can only get you one call sign result at a time.

Nevertheless, you can use a call sign generator such as the WM7D Call sign database to expedite the search results.

To change your Ham radio call sign, you can do so by applying for a new call sign or a vanity call sign via form 605 found on the FCC website.

This begs the question: what is a vanity call sign? It is a specific call sign for your primary station or your club station.

And to get one, you have two options to choose from. One, you can apply through the ULS– Universal licensing System— or through form 605.

And the best part: according to FCC regulations, you won’t be required to make any payments for the vanity call sign.

For sure, that’s something to smile about! Now let’s dive deeper into how Ham radio works.


How Ham Radio Works

In this section, you shall discover the key concepts by which a Ham radio works. You will need this to understand your Ham radio.

So, here we go!

1. Radio Frequency

You have probably come across writings such as 200 kHz, 150 MHz, or 840 GHz. If you’re seeing them for the first time, they shouldn’t frighten you.

Simply put, this is how radio frequencies are presented. The “k” stands for kilo, the “M” for mega, and the “G” Giga.

Also, note that K represents the lowest radio frequency while G represents the highest.

2. Radio Wavelength

This is the physical distance between two points–similar in characteristics– on two different waves.

Higher frequencies generally have shorter wavelengths. And the inverse is true for lower frequencies.

3. HF, VHF, and UHF

HF stands for high frequency, UHF for ultra-high frequency, and VHF very high frequency.

Each of these represents the transformation and evolution in radio frequencies that have been taking place time after time.

HF has a frequency range of 3-30 MHz, VHF has a range of 30-300 MHZ while UHF has a frequency range of 300 MHz to 3 GHz.

4. Ham Radio Bands

A radio band is a block consisting of radio frequencies. Also, a band can be identified by its frequency or wavelength.

Ham radio has 27 radio bands and out of these, only 11 are popular. When you begin to use your Ham radio, you will have access to two radio bands.

These are the 2m band at a frequency of 144-148 MHz and 70m at a frequency of 430-440 MHz.

5. Radio Channels

Using a radio channel is a simple way to identify radio frequencies. This makes it less technical and easy to understand.

Therefore, instead of saying 29.345 MHz, you simply say channel 19 0r 20.

6. Ham Radio Transmission

This will primarily depend on the type of Ham radio and the band you’re using. A handheld ham radio operates between 5-8 watts and can transmit up to 2 miles.

On the flip side, a base radio operates on 1500 watts of power and can transmit up to 18 miles.

7. Tracing a Ham Radio

Can your Ham radio be traced? Absolutely yes! If you make your call sign public, then anybody can use that to trace you.

It is also possible for someone to trace you when they hear your call sign in the air. Furthermore, all license records are in the public domain.

8. Ham Radio Repeater

Ham Radio Repeater

Low-level signals are weak and can interfere with the transmission quality. The solution to this is to get an electronic device that can convert low-level frequency signals to a high-level frequency signal.

When you do this, you amplify the signal to cover longer distances. The device you use to achieve this is known as a Ham radio repeater.

9. Ham Radio Antenna

There are different types of antennas and each is used for the purpose of frequency transmission and reception.

To capture lower frequencies, you need longer antennas and to capture higher frequencies, shorter antennas will suffice.

Ham Radio Antenna

How to Operate a Ham Radio

Ham Radio Q Signals and Codes These are specialized and standardized codes that are used to support communications between Ham operators.

Previously, these codes were designed for commercial radio communication. But later on, other radio services adopted them.

Walkie talkie lingo & codesThis involves the use of a unique language that’s specific to Walkie talkie users. Some examples are; copy, over etc.

The aim is to enhance the user experience by making communication between users simple.


Buyers Guide to Ham Radio

Making a buying decision can be a hurdle. However, it doesn’t have to be when you have the right set of knowledge.

Below are the factors you should consider when getting your first Ham radio.

Purpose – Ask yourself, “What do I need the radio for?” Probably, you need the radio for emergency communications or just for casual use.

This is the initial step and it helps you to determine how strong the radio should be amongst other features.

Bands and Frequencies – Once you know why you need the radio, you need to find the right frequency and bands.

These two are important as they help you achieve your intended purpose. Frequencies and bands help you pass or receive information from anywhere.

Antenna Power – Occasionally, you will experience low signals. This shouldn’t be the case as it can prevent you from getting or passing information on time.

The best way to deal with this is to ensure the radio antenna is adequately powerful to capture low signal frequencies.

Final Thoughts

Being a Ham is a remarkable experience. The best way to find out is by joining the community of amateur radio users all over the globe.

All you need is the right information and the direction to take. The good news: by following this guide you’re already halfway into the community.

To gain full access, all that is left is action. Yes! Take ACTION NOW and become the NEWEST Ham in town.

Paul Dudley