How Does Ham Radio Work?


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How does ham radio work? This is a question many people ask. Before we get to the details of how a ham radio works let’s get to know more about ham radios. A ham radio is also known as amateur radio. It uses radio frequency spectrum for purposes of non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, private recreation, radio sport, contesting, and emergency communication. A ham radio is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics and communication together. Ham radio has been used to communicate with others across towns, other parts of the world and even in space, all without the internet or cell phones. It’s a recreational activities to some, very social, educative and has been a lifeline during times of need.

How does ham radio work?

Ham radio came into being when Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi adapted radio waves that was proved to exist by Heinrich Rudolf Hertz in 1888 into a communication system in the 1890s. Ham signal range varies widely based on the equipment and band being using. A handheld ham radio gets a few miles in most circumstances, while a base station on HF bands can bounce off the atmosphere to talk around the globe. Ham radios can transmit/receive in AM, SSB, FM, RTTY and other modes. It provides a better range compared to CB radios. They give 1.5k Power compared to 12Watt Maximum power (SSB) of CB radios.

Amateur radio is coordinated and represented worldwide by the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) which has as its members, the national amateur radio societies which exist in most countries. Though recent data on the population of people using amateur radio is not available, in 2011 it was estimated at 2 million by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).

Ham radio frequencies

One does not need to purchase the equipment, nor to listen(monitor) to the many Ham radio frequencies. However, an FCC, which governs the use of amateur radio in the USA,  requires one to get a Licence to transmit on Amateur Radio Frequencies in the USA. The licenses validity is 10 years from the date of issuance or renewal. Renewal of the license can easily be done online. The entry-level license/Technician Class, is granted after an applicant successfully completes a written examination.

Ham Radio Frequencies

Hams use a variety of frequencies for communications allocated by the FCC for amateur use. Anyone can can “listen in” via their own receivers or radio scanners. Ham radio may operate from just above the AM broadcast band to the microwave region, in the gigahertz range. Many ham bands are found in the frequency range that goes from above the AM radio band (1.6 MHz) to just above the citizens band (27 MHz).

15 to 27 MHz is a good band for long-distance communications during the day while the band from 1.6 to 15 MHz is good for long-distance communications at night. These bands are often referred to historically as short-wave bands (as in “short-wave radio”).

Unlike radio frequencies used by FM radio and TV stations, which are line-of-sight and therefore limited to 40 or 50 miles, short-waves “bounce” off the ionosphere from the transmitter to the receiver’s antenna. The higher the frequency, the “shorter” the wavelength. While some ham radio operators use voice, others use Morse code. Morse code signals (beeps) is ideal to transmit message when voice transmissions cannot go through. There are also very many digital modes as well, and hams use radio modems to communicate in various networks.

Benefits of using Ham Radio

  • Hams are reliable to handle emergency communication. They work well when a natural disaster takes down utilities. It provides instant communication using handheld radios for short range communications or HF portable for worldwide communication. It handles communication that standard communication cannot handle and provides long hours communication.
  • The Ham radio has the ability to communicate over short and long distances without the need of any infrastructure like internet.
  • It’s also fun speaking one-to-one with people from other countries, cultures, and languages. It enables understanding between citizens of various countries before it is politically expedient to do so. Did you know you can talk to an astronaut in space using a ham radio?
  • The ham radio rules are flexible to allow anyone build and use satellites to various digital modes. New and modern digital modes are invented on a regular basis, as well as analog modes of communications. If you are interested in radio communications, it’s a very versatile radio service that will permit experimentation with almost any mode.
  • A ham radio is useful in some practical situations. When one is driving out and about, one can call other local amateurs to see if there is a traffic jam. If so, you can take another route.
  • It can be to experience with other configurations and interfaces. You can build your gear if you chose to. You can even build it in software which is called Software Defined Radio (SDR). SDR receivers can be very low cost $20–25 for a good one. With free software it can pick up weather sat, non-trunking public service radios, FRS, GMRS and VUHF ham.

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Paul Dudley

Paul is the owner and founder of . His passion for ham radios and fishing lead him to create this site. He loves playing with his radios and doing many other outdoor activities