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An Amateur's Guide to Ham Radios

If you've heard the term "ham radios" and were confused by the meaning, you aren't alone. Ham radio is another way of saying amateur radio as the person who broadcasts over the frequency is referred to as a "ham". Don't let the term amateur fool you - many ham radio operators have years of experience in the hobby and can hardly be considered novices. In the case of ham radio, the term amateur simply refers to the designated radio frequencies used in the radio community. The radio frequencies used are non-commercial bands, reserved solely for the enthusiast. In order to operate ham radio equipment and communicate with other participants over amateur radio frequencies, a ham must become licensed.

History of Ham Radio

Ham radio enjoys a lengthy history dating back to the early twentieth century. With a global audience, amateur radio enthusiasts are part of a community that has made significant contributions to many fields. It is known that as far back as 1909, 89 radio call stations had been designated for amateur or ham radio use. Ham radio has become a universal phenomenon, with no signs of slowing down. From computer networking to monitoring disasters or simply as a form of wireless communication within the community, ham radio has proved it is here to stay.

Ham Radio Equipment

In order to operate as a ham you need the right equipment. Ham radio equipment has changed over the years, and as more ways to communicate are developed, the equipment used changes. For instance, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) has enabled new types of ham radio equipment. For those interested in becoming a ham, the decision must be made as to what type of frequency or communication method you will use. The best ham radio equipment for you will depend on what type of communication method you decide on.

Ham radio equipment typically includes a radio and transceiver (handheld, mobile, or mounted). Depending upon your goals, you may choose to add computers, power cables, antennas, weather stations, scanners and receivers, towers, two-way radios, and other specialized devices. Determine your end goals to ensure you select the best equipment for your needs. The equipment you select is imperative to your success as an operator. Choose your radio equipment wisely, as it can be a significant investment. Look for ham radios for beginners or used equipment when you're just starting out to get a feel for the hobby without as large of an investment.

Terminology for Ham Radio

As with any hobby, the ham radio community uses their own terminology and lingo. Those participating in amateur radio will find that it is invaluable to spend time understanding various terms used by fellow hobbyists. While some words pertain to the science behind radio, there are other slang words that the enthusiasts have adopted over the years. Understanding the terminology associated with ham radio will not only help you communicate more effectively with other enthusiasts; but will also help you understand the best way to operate your radio equipment.

How to use Call Signs

A call sign is the alphanumerical code given to licensed ham radio operators so they are legally recognized as amateur radio operators. Call signs vary in length, but it's common to find that those with shorter call signs have greater flexibility as radio operators. Different governing bodies assign call signs worldwide. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) assigns amateur or ham radio call signs. A licensed radio operator must use his or her assigned call sign every time he or she transmits.

Ham Radio Organizations and Licensing

Organizations and licensing are two important factors to consider in the ham radio community. All ham radio operators need to be licensed in order to broadcast. However, amateur radio incorporates a global community and there are different licensing procedures for each country. Joining organizations is an excellent way to stay current with the latest rules, regulations, and trends as well. Some organizations obtain call signs, making them their own closely-knit group of radio operators.

In addition to nationwide organizations, ham radio enthusiasts may find that joining a ham radio organization is the best way to connect with others, especially if they don't know someone that is already in the amateur radio community. There are national as well as local clubs that will make communication easy between hobbyists. The person new to ham radio may find that the best way to familiarize him or herself with the hobby or to find a ham radio guide is by networking with others through organizations. Several popular organizations in the United States and abroad include the National Association for Amateur Radio and the International Amateur Radio Union. You may find more resources for ham radio enthusiasts, including information on beginning, ham radio terms and lingo, and the many uses of amateur radio in the links below.