Most people think the radio is just something to be passively listened to, a way to enjoy good music or get an update on the news. But there’s so much more to the world of radio, especially the unique fun of ham radio.
Before you know it, you could broadcast worldwide, make new international friends, and expand your horizons. Don’t get too excited — you’ll need your ham radio license first.
Don’t touch that dial while we take a look at ham radio, what it takes to get your license, and why it’s such a great hobby.
What Is a Ham Radio?
Ham radio is the common way to refer to the hobby of amateur radio operators who communicate with other operators for fun. They broadcast from custom-built studios in their homes or other non-professional studios.
Ham radios can range from modest to powerful setups designed to send and receive audio transmissions. It all takes place on a special part of the radio spectrum reserved for non-commercial use.
This ensures you and your fellow hobbyists won’t interfere with critical communications or find businesses taking up valuable frequencies.
Why Is It Called a Ham Radio?
Initially, the term “ham radio” wasn’t a positive one for amateur radio operators. It dates back to the earliest days of radio when amateurs and professional broadcasters competed for the same part of the bandwidth.
In some cases, these amateurs could make life much more difficult for the pros by crowding out their broadcasts.
Frustrated broadcasters labeled these amateurs “hams,” potentially related to the term “ham-fisted,” meaning clumsy or bungling. However, amateurs eventually embraced this name to distinguish themselves from other operators.
Pro Tip: Looking for some fun new hobbies? Take some time to learn these Basic Survival Skills Everyone Should Know.
Do You Need a Ham Radio License to Use a Ham Radio?
Yes and no — it all comes down to what you mean by “use.” You don’t need a license to buy, install, and listen to a ham radio. However, you’ll need a license if you plan to transmit over it.
And that’s at least half the fun! Therefore, while they’re not a requirement, most ham radio enthusiasts will get a license to ensure they can broadcast as needed without running afoul of the law.
How Do You get a Ham Radio License?
The first step is to know your stuff. Take time to educate yourself on the essential parts of broadcasting and receiving and the laws and regulations.
Then, you’ll need to take a government exam administered by other radio enthusiasts to prove your skills and knowledge. Finally, if you pass, your information will get sent to the Federal Communications Commission, which will process your license.
All that’s left is to pay your $35 license fee, and you’re done! Remember that most of those seeking a ham radio license will have to pay a small fee for test administration.
Many others will spend some money on test prep books or programs, though you can also get free materials online. Overall, you should typically expect to pay $50 to $80, including your FCC fee, to earn your ham radio license.
5 Great Reasons to Get Your Ham Radio License
So why should you get your ham radio license? This relatively little-known hobby has some tremendous benefits you may not have considered.
Communicate Long Distances Without Internet or Cell Networks
One of the most tantalizing possibilities that draw new ham radio users is the idea of talking to people worldwide through the power of your own antenna.
This is a fun way to meet new people and learn about other areas and cultures. Imagine talking with someone in Spain and then dialing in new frequencies for a chat with friends in South America.
If the internet or cell networks become unavailable, you can still communicate clearly with other radio operators through this simple but incredibly effective technology.
Learn a New Skill
For many people, life is about continuous learning. Ham radio offers an excellent opportunity to develop a unique and valuable skill.
You can learn the technical skills of building and expanding your radio setup and languages by speaking to international operators. There’s no limit to what this hobby can teach you.
Plus, you never know when your new radio and communication skills might come in handy.
No one likes to think about a scenario when regular phone and internet infrastructure goes down, and you or a loved one faces an emergency. But it can happen, and in these situations, ham radio can literally save a life.
Ham radios can help get out rescue messages during extreme weather, call for medical help, or simply provide a vital lifeline to civilization for those in remote areas.
When all else fails, these radios will be waiting to help in those emergency moments.
You have many ways to give back as part of the ham radio community, from helping new hobbyists get their licenses to providing crucial communication links during disasters.
Volunteers help administer operator tests and run local clubs and organizations. You can even use your license to help out neighbors or first responders in situations where traditional communications networks go down.
Join Ham Radio Operator Community
Even though they may be scattered across the globe, the ham radio operator community is a tight-knit group. On a local level, you can participate in clubs or events.
Additionally, you can develop lifelong friendships with fellow operators thousands of miles from home. Organizations like the National Association for Amateur Radio help connect enthusiasts and organize this passionate but disparate community.
Can Ham Radios Interfere with Cell Phones?
This is a common worry about ham radios and was a valid one in the past. However, modern cell phone technology has dramatically reduced the risk of interference to near zero.
For one, they operate on different parts of the radio frequency spectrum. In addition, these radios use analog signals, while cell phones have switched to digital ones. All of this means you should rest easy if this is a concern. A properly functioning radio should leave your cell signal as strong as ever.
What Does a Ham Radio Cost?
As with many hobbies, you can invest as much or as little as you’d like, depending on your interest. On the lowest end, ham radio setups will cost $100 to $200 for low-power versions with relatively few features.
On the flip side, dedicated enthusiasts can spend $2,000 or more on sophisticated equipment and powerful antennae. The average operator lands somewhere between, with a mid-range setup costing $700 to $1,200.
While this is a significant amount of money for many people, much of this equipment will last years or even decades, making it a hobby with high starting costs but low ongoing ones.
Pro Tip: Learn a new skill by trying out these 9 Adventurous Hobbies to Try Before You Die.
Ham Radios Are the Original Social Network
Before Facebook, Twitter, or the internet, ham radio brought people together worldwide, forging friendships and helping increase cultural understanding.
While it’s easier than ever to communicate over long distances, that doesn’t mean ham radio is useless or outdated. From providing vital communications during emergencies to simply learning new skills and making friends, ham radio still has a lot to offer. Tune in and find out what’s waiting for you.
Are you interested in getting your ham radio license? Broadcast your thoughts in the comments!
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Friday 25th of November 2022
As a Ham Radio operator since 1998, I keep a handheld radio on board just in case I get out of cell tower range. That way if things do go sideways I've got an alternate form of communication. I've also got a mobile radio I can take along if I want to get away from the city noise and communicate long distances
The phrase that pays in this case is "When all else fails... Ham Radio". The American Red Cross even suggests ham radio in preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse. Do they really expect the Zombie Apocalypse? No, but from their web site, "If you're prepared for the zombie apocalypse you're prepared for any natural disaster."
While most will go the CB radio or FRS route, both good options licensed by rule and not requiring at test to transmit, their low-power requirements limit the distance you can transmit. With a ham radio license and a good antenna you can talk half-way around the world using only a 100-watt radio, literally. I've done it.
BTW - Ham Radio operators do not broadcast. That's what commercial radio is for. We transmit our signal in the hope that someone responds so we can strike up a conversation.
Monday 21st of November 2022
My husband & I have our Ham Radio licenses, It is big help....think about backing up your RV...without cell phone coverage. We also participant with our local EOC and practice our skill long distance bike races, such as Tour De Cour and MS events.
Mortons on the Move
Saturday 17th of December 2022