Getting Started in Ham Radio

So, you want to get your ham radio license. Welcome and thank you for selecting amateur radio as a hobby. Ham radio operators are a widely varied group involved in a full range of activities. The great thing about ham radio is that their is something for just about everyone. Want to get involved in emergency communications and public service? Ham radio can do that. How about computer technology and electronics? Yep, ham radio again. Like to chat with people next door and around the world? Ham radio’s been doing that since 1912. The great thing about ham radio is that it can be whatever you make it.

The big question is though, how do you get started with ham radio? Actually, it’s easier than you might imagine. To be able to transmit on the amateur radio bands, you need an FCC amateur radio license. The entry level Technician Class license will give you privileges to communicate on amateur radio frequencies above 30MHz and certain shortwave frequencies below 30Mhz. Once you feel comfortable with your Technician class license, you can upgrade to General with gives you more frequencies and options to communicate. You no longer need to pass a morse code test to get on the ham radio bands at all.

Your amateur radio license is free and good for 10 years. The only cost is the testing session, which runs about $15. The Technician class license consists of 35 multiple choice questions drawn from a publicly available pool of about 500 questions. You can view the pool of questions and use that to study, but I recommend getting a study guide which will give you more background information on purpose of the questions.

Step one is to get a ham radio license study guide. If a local amateur radio club offers a class or ‘exam cram session’ you can attend one of those sessions. I think the best study guides are the series produced by Gordon West. His Technician Class 2015-2018 book is a  great resource for studying for the exam session.

Once you feel confident with the material, try some online exams to test your skills. These online tests are drawn from the official pool and will give you some feedback on your progress. My tip, use the online tests sparingly. It’s easy to get drawn into them and receive a false sense of confidence. Study the material, get a feeling for the background of the questions and you’ll confidently pass the test.

Most ham radio license exam sessions are registered and posted on the ARRL Website. Use their tool to find a session near you. Contact the test administrator and let them know you will be attending. Bring cash or a check for $15 and one form of government issued picture identification. The FCC also requires that you also provide your Social Security number on the exam application. If the applicant is a minor or doesn’t have government issued picture ID, then two forms of ID will be required such as a birth certificate along with a student ID, or other identification card.

Once you pass the test, your license will be issued within 5-7 business days. Your name and callsign will show up in the FCC database within that time. Afterwards you will receive a paper copy of your license in the mail in about 2 weeks. Once you see your callsign online, you are considered licensed.

My tip to aspiring amateur radio operators is to study the background material and don’t try to memorize the pool questions. I guarantee that you will be frustrated going into the exam if the take the route of memorization. If  you have an understanding of the concepts, you’ll pass for sure.

Good luck, and I hope to hear you on the bands.