WHAT IS AMATEUR RADIO?
A retired military officer in North Carolina makes friends over the
radio with a ham in Lithuania. An Ohio teenager uses her computer to upload
a 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 call signs with hams in 100 countries in less than
a week. And, in the aftermath of a catastrophic fire in California, hams
save lives and property as part of their involvement in an emergency communications
This unique mix of fun, public service and convenience is the hallmark
of the hobby called Amateur Radio today. Although Radio Amateurs get involved
in the hobby for many reasons, they all have in common a basis knowledge
of radio technology, regulations and operating principles, demonstrated
by passing an examination for a license to operate on radio frequencies
known as the "Amateur Bands."
WHO IS 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. But whether
they prefer Morse Code on an old brass telegraph key through a low power
transmitter, voice communication on a 2 meter hand-held receiver or computer
messages transmitted through satellites and packet networks, they all have
an interest in what's happening in the world, and they use radio to reach
WHAT IS THE APPEAL OF HAM RADIO?
Some hams are attracted by the ability to communicate across the country,
around the globe, even with space missions. Others build and experiment
with electronics. Computer hobbyists find packet radio to be a low-cost
way to expand their ability to communicate. Those with a competitive streak
enjoy DX contests, where the object is to see how many distant locations
they can contact. Some like the convenience of a technology that gives
them portable communication. Others use it to open the door to new friendships
over the air or through participation in one or more than 2000 Amateur
Radio clubs throughout the country.
A NOBLE HISTORY
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.
Not long after Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian experimenter, transmitted
the Morse Code letter "s" from Newfoundland to England in 1901, amateur
experimenters throughout the world were trying out the capabilities of
the first "spark gap" transmitters.
In 1912 Congress passed the first laws regulating radio transmissions
in the U.S. By 1914, Amateur experimenters were communicating nation-wide,
and setting up a system to relay messages from coast to coast. In 1927,
the Federal Communications Commission
was created by Congress and specific frequencies were assigned for various
uses, including the ham bands.
WHY THE AMATEUR RADIO LICENSE?
Although the main purpose of Amateur Radio is fun, it is call 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 addition, the FCC acknowledged the ability
of the hobby to advance the communication and technical skills of radio,
and to enhance international goodwill. The ARS is
much different from CB.
This philosophy has paid off. Countless lives have been saved where
skilled hobbyists act as emergency communicators to render aid, whether
it's an earthquake in Italy, a flood in India or a hurricane in the U.S.
WHAT'S THE RIGHT LICENSE FOR ME?
Over the years, five basic license classes have evolved. The higher
the class license you have, the more privileges and modes of operation
you get. But to get the higher class license requires progressively more
knowledge of the technology, rules and regulations, as well as higher Morse
Code speeds. So, you can learn the basics or you can become an expert and
still enjoy the hobby.
Today, the "entry level" license for radio amateurs is the easy- to-learn
easy-to-earn "code-free" or Technician Class license, which requires a
55 question examination on radio theory, regulations and operations. The
Technician class license gives access to millions of frequencies in the
UHF and VHF bands, all modes of operation, and access to Amateur Radio
Orbiting Satellites (OSCARS) which opens up communication world-wide and
The Novice class license requires passing a 30 questions exam and basic
Morse Code test of five words per minute. Technician licensees may also
pass the Novice code test to earn additional privileges.
The General class license requires passing a 25 questions exam and a
13 word per minute code test. The Advanced class license adds another 50
question examination, and the highest class license, the Amateur Extra,
requires an additional 40 question exam plus a 20 word per minute code
Radio amateurs carry their licenses with them so they can operate wherever
they go in the U.S. Typically, they also keep a copy of the license in
their radio shack at home.
WHY DO THEY CALL THEMSELVES "HAMS"?
Although the origin of the word "ham" is obscure, every ham has his
or her own pet theory. One holds that early Amateurs were called hams because
they liked to "perform" on the air, as in "hamming it up". Another theory
proposes that the name came from the "ham-fisted" way some Amateurs handled
their code keys. The easiest opinion to accept is that "hams" is a Briticism
of "Ams", as in Amateurs. And one of the most exotic holds that "hams"
is an acronym, the call sign H.A.M. from the initials of three college
students who were among the first Radio Amateurs.
WHAT ARE THE AMATEUR RADIO BANDS?
Look at the dial on an old AM radio and you'll see frequencies marked
from 535 to 1605 kilohertz. Imagine that band extended to the right, out
many thousands of kilohertz, and you'll have some idea of how much additional
radio spectrum is available for amateur, government and commercial radio
bands. It is here you'll find aircraft, ship, fire and police communications,
as well as the so-called "shortwave" stations, which are worldwide commercial
and government broadcast stations from overseas.
Amateurs are given nine "bands" (i.e. groups of frequencies) in the
high frequency range between 1800 and 29,700 kilohertz, and another 6 bands
in the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and Very High Frequency (VHF) ranges.
Even though many Amateur Radio conversations may be heard around the world
given the right frequency and propagation conditions, Amateur Radio is
basically two-way communications.
WHERE DO I GET MORE INFORMATION?
Introduction to SEITS - Voice
Repeater System - High Speed Packet
Past Work - A Look
Ahead - Back to SEITS HomePage
Right here!! You can send us a message below and we'll help get you
in contact with someone in your area. You might also want to check out
the American Radio Relay League, the ARRL,
which is the national organization for hams. The three best ways to learn
about Amateur Radio are to listen to hams on the Amateur bands, read about
Amateur Radio in the numerous books and magazines devoted to the subject
and, best of all, talk to hams face-to-face. Hams take pride in their ability
to "Elmer" (teach) newcomers the ropes to get them started in the hobby.
Most will welcome your interest.