Frequently Asked Questions (extracted from the American Radio Relay League [ARRL] website)
What is Ham Radio?
A housewife in North Carolina makes friends over the radio with another ham in Lithuania. An Ohio teenager uses his computer to upload a digital chess move to an orbiting space satellite, where it's retrieved by a fellow chess enthusiast in Japan. An aircraft engineer in Florida participating in a "DX contest" swaps his call sign and talks to hams in 100 different countries during a single weekend. In California, volunteers save lives as part of their involvement in an emergency response. And from his room in Chicago, a ham's pocket-sized hand-held radio allows him to talk to friends in the Carolinas. This unique mix of fun, public service and convenience is the distinguishing characteristic of Amateur Radio. Although hams get involved for many reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology and operating principles, and pass an examination for the FCC license to operate on radio frequencies known as the "Amateur Bands." These bands are radio frequencies reserved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use by hams at intervals from just above the AM broadcast band all the way up into extremely high microwave frequencies. Listen to this spot, "What Is Ham Radio?"
Who are Amateur Radio operators or Hams? Anyone you know could be an Amateur Radio operator or "ham" --no matter what age, gender or physical ability. From ages 8 to 80, people in many countries of the world can have fun as radio amateurs. If you've had fun with CB radio or trying new things with your computer, wait till you see what you can do with ham radio!
When was Amateur Radio started? Nobody knows when Amateur Radio operators were first called "hams," but we do know that Amateur Radio is as old as the history of radio itself. In 1912, Congress passed the first laws regulating radio transmissions in the US. By 1914, amateur experimenters were communicating nationwide, and setting up a system to relay messages from coast to coast (that's how we got our name, American Radio Relay League, ARRL, for short).
What Can I Do With Ham Radio? You can communicate from the top of a mountain, your home or behind the wheel of your car. You can take radio wherever you go! In times of disaster, when regular communications channels fail, hams can swing into action assisting emergency communications efforts and working with public service agencies. At other times, you can talk to International Space Station astronauts or bounce signals off the moon. You can use telegraphy, voice, digital, even images in communication with other hams. Know any other hobby with so much to offer?
Why Do I need A License? Although the main purpose of Amateur Radio is fun, it is called the "Amateur Radio Service" because it also has a serious face. The FCC created the "Service" to fill the need for a pool of experts who could provide backup emergency communications in times of need. In addition, the FCC acknowledged the ability of the hobby to advance communication and technical knowledge and skills, and enhance international goodwill. This philosophy has paid off. Countless lives have been saved where skilled hobbyists act as emergency communicators to render aid, whether it's during an earthquake in Italy or a hurricane in the U.S.
What will this cost me? A basic new handheld radio can cost about the same as an inexpensive 19-inch color TV. Flea market bargains can cost a lot less. A new tabletop multi-band unit for your home radio shack can cost about the same as the PC you're reading this on. Materials to get you started are relatively inexpensive, and the exam fee you'll pay when you're ready to test is nominal.
I don't have a lot of time. Can I still enjoy the hobby? You bet! The beauty of ham radio is it can fit the time, space, and budget that YOU decide is right for you. It's got that low stress, high fun ratio that many busy people seek in their off-hours. It can also be great family fun or a solitary pleasure.
Who's the Typical Ham? Amateur Radio operators come from all walks of life -- movie stars, missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, truck drivers and just plain folks. They are all ages, sexes, income levels and nationalities. They say Hello to the world in many languages and many ways. But whether they prefer Morse code on an old brass telegraph key, voice communication on a hand-held radio, or computerized messages transmitted via satellite, they all have an interest in what's happening in the world, and they use radio to reach out.
What's the Appeal of Ham Radio? Some hams are attracted by the ability to communicate across the country, around the globe, or even with astronauts on space missions. Others may like to build and experiment with electronics. Computer hobbyists enjoy using Amateur Radio's digital communications opportunities. Those with a competitive streak enjoy "DX contests," where the object is to see how many hams in distant locations they can contact. Some like the convenience of a technology that gives them portable communication. Mostly we use it to open the door to new friendships over the air or through participation in one of more than 2000 Amateur Radio clubs throughout the country. Read real person comments in "Why I Love It!".
Why Do They Call Themselves "Hams"? "Ham: a poor operator. A 'plug.'"
That's the definition of the word given in G. M. Dodge's "The Telegraph Instructor" even before there was radio. The definition has never changed in wire telegraphy. The first wireless operators were landline telegraphers who left their offices to go to sea or to man the coastal stations. They brought with them their language and much of the tradition of their older profession. In those early days, every station occupied the same wavelength-or, more accurately perhaps, every station occupied the whole spectrum with its broad spark signal. Government stations, ships, coastal stations and the increasingly numerous amateur operators all competed for time and signal supremacy in each other's receivers. Many of the amateur stations were very powerful. Two amateurs, working each other across town, could effectively jam all the other operations in the area. Frustrated commercial operators would refer to the ham radio interference by calling them "hams." Amateurs, possibly unfamiliar with the real meaning of the term, picked it up and applied it to themselves in true "Yankee Doodle" fashion and wore it with pride. As the years advanced, the original meaning has completely disappeared.
Do I Have to Learn Morse Code? Not any more! While many hams LIKE to use Morse code, it is not required.
What are some of the other ways radio hams communicate? There is a great variety of ways that Amateur Radio operators are able to communicate. Using voice is just one. Morse code is still widely used. Packet, Radio Teletype (often called Ritty) and PSK are three more methods. Even faster transmissions are being developed using methods which can send almost any form of digital data. Hams also use television to send pictures over the air.
What are the different license classes? There are three license levels (known as classes) where each class grants greater privleges 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 30 Mhz and some specific frequencies below 30Mhz and is the most popular. It requires only a written test.
General Class - this is the mid-level license. It grants additional privileges on most amateur frequencies below 30 Mhz. It has its own written test. You are required to have passed the Technician level test before you can test for General.
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.
How do I learn more about Amateur Radio?
Attend An NCARC Club Meeting
Come to our Club Meetings so you learn about the fun & activities of ham radio.
For date, time and location for our meetings see the NCARC home page.
How do I get a license?
Study the Technician Question pool. (Study materials are listed below)
Pass the written test.
You will receive your call sign in the FCC database about a week after you pass the test.
You will receive your license in the mail about 2 weeks after you pass the test.Cost of the test is $ 15.00. This covers the expenses of giving the test. If you pass, your license is valid for ten years. There is no cost to renew your license once you have earned it.
Study for and pass the General and Extra exams for added privileges.
Where can I get help? Come to our Club Meetings. We will help you get started on your license.
License Study Manuals:
"The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual"
All you need to become an Amateur Radio Operator
Review the entire Technician question pool with explanations
ARRL Technician Study Guide
"W5YI License Guide Bookstore"
Many books and software materials are available
W5YI Online CatalogLicense Classes:
Contact the Nevada County Amateur Radio Club for the dates and locations of License Study Classes
On-Line Practice Tests:
On-line practice tests using questions from the current test question pool will automatically grade you and build your confidence.
Hamtesting.com (no registration needed)
Hamtest.org (free registration required)
Hamexam.org (registration not required, but you may register for the site if you wish)
Eham.net (registration not required, but you may register for the site if you wish)
You can also download study guide apps for most current generation smartphones.
When I am ready, where can I take the test? See the examination dates and contact information on the NCARC home page.
For additional information, see the New Ham section of our Links page.