How Ham Radio Works

People continue to demonstrate the desire to communicate, and ham radio fulfills this need admirably.  There are many radio services, most of them requiring licensure before you can legally talk, text, or type to others, some of them even requiring membership in military or public service organizations.  Ham radio, known officially as the Amateur Radio Service, is different.

Regulatory foundation of the Amateur Radio Service

The licensing body for the Amateur Radio Service (“ARS”) is the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”).  Its authority is found at Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations, and the ARS rules are found in Part 97 of this Title.  These rules define what the service is meant to be, how operators are created, and in what way “hams” (not-so-nicely named decades ago by commercial radio operators) are able to communicate with one another and with operators from around the world.

Without getting into the complexities of the rules, hams are persons who are interested in radios, research, and communications, and they may be of any age.  They are required to pass examinations to show that they understand both the community aspects of radio communications and the technical requirements of each license class.  The ARS is a non-commercial service that provides many thousands of hours of recreation each year, while offering disaster communications to the public wherever and whenever such services are needed.

Prospective ham radio operators have a variety of options when choosing to enter the ARS.  The FCC allows Volunteer Examiner Coordinators, national groups of ARS operators, to test applicants for the service.  An applicant who successfully passes the examinations for a certain license class may usually find the callsign grant online within a week and begin operating.

Technical aspects of the hobby

Radio amateurs have access, depending on their license class, to an amazing number of frequency bands, and they may use a number of different operating modes in order to communicate effectively.  Regular band allocations stretch from 160 meters (1.8 MHz) to 23 centimeters (1240 MHz), and the power necessary to maintain contact is what operators are authorized to use.  This is usually a maximum output power of 1500 watts, though, on some bands, the maximum may be limited by Part 97 of the Rules to 5 watts.

Some of the common modes of operation for the ARS are RTTY (radioteletypography), radiotelephone and image transmission, continuous wave (commonly known as Morse Code), and single sideband (upper or lower).  Several digital modes are now available, and the computer enthusiasts among ham radio operators will find many enjoyable variations of online Web communications on the air.

The bands on which you choose to operate are controlled by your desires, your expertise in acquiring or building appropriate equipment, and your license class.  The modes you choose may be affected by your simple choice of what is comfortable or, given the options, how proficient you are in more esoteric and technical areas of electronics.

In short, the opportunities are wide open for experimentation, for comfortable daily commuting, for disaster relief, and for communicating through space vehicles.  Each is your choice, and you may change from one to another at any time you please.  The ARS is supportive of all these options, and the technical expertise of the national group representing all amateurs, the American Radio Relay League, is available on request.

Camaraderie among radio amateurs

More than technical prowess is involved in becoming a ham radio operator.  While it is certainly important to know what you’re doing, more often than not you will find that you have a lot in common with other operators in your local area.  Radio amateur clubs are numerous throughout the world, and they provide fellowship and community access to their members as an adjunct to licensure and public service.

Going to club meetings, you can discover other like-minded individuals and find people with whom to start projects for building, for service, and for fun.  Clubs offer news to their members that may help them to set up better stations, offer support to those who live in communities where antenna structures may be frowned upon, and even offer political advocacy for those times when ham radio’s frequencies or modes of operation may be challenged.

All of these things are available for the price of a few examinations and the determination to have a more active part in the community.  The choice, of course, lies with the individual communications enthusiast, even if you don’t yet know that’s who you are.