About Ham Radio

What is Amateur Radio?

Amateur radio is a hobby in which people experiment with and communicate with radio. The ability to experiment is an important distinction between amateur radio and other services, such as Citizens’ Band, Family Radio, or Business Radio. Because radio amateurs are allowed to experiment, they are required to pass tests to prove a level of technical competence before being granted a license.

There are three levels of amateur radio licenses currently offered in the U.S, which vary in the degree of knowledge required and frequency privileges granted. Each has a corresponding exam.

The entry level, Technician Class exam, covers basic radio fundamentals, simple electroncs, and knowledge of basic rules and regulations. With each step you gain more priveleges. The General Class, builds on what you've already learned, and helps you to advance your technical and operating skills. The final step in the amateur radio ladder is Extra Class, which goes into more detail about the rules, specific operating skills, and more advanced electronics theory. Once achieved, you will be permitted to operate with all the privileges that the FCC grants to amateur radio operators.

Take the challenge and explore the world

Hams experiment with many different communications modes. Amateur radio is not just about talking to one another. Many hams like to use morse code, while others connect a personal computer to a radio and use digital modes, which allow text-based chat and even the exchange of pictures over the air.

Part of the fun is undoubtedly the challenge involved with understanding the sometimes unpredictable nature of radio waves for communicating over long distances. Some hams enjoy building their own radios and trying them out on the air. Others may never build a piece of equipment, but enjoy the challenge of making contacts with stations that are thousands of miles away with very low power. Some hams enjoy experimenting with ultra high frequency, operating from hilltops to get the best distances using line-of-sight propagation. And others like to push the boundaries of communication itself, by bouncing their radio signals off meteor trails, or even the moon. Hams can even make contacts using satellites that have been built by radio amateurs and sent into orbit especially for ham radio use.

Cool Things

Many Profound discoveries have been made by ham radio operators...

A few of them are:
  • John Logie Baird, who‘s amateur experiments in the transmission of pictures led to the development of television. On February 9, 1928, he transmitted the world’s first inter-continental shortwave television signal from a transmitter (call sign 2KZ), in Coulson, Surrey, England to his colleague in the cellar of Robert M. Hart’s house, (call sign 2CVJ), in Hartsdale, New York. 
  • FM pioneer Frank Gunther, (W2ALS), first established a two-way police communications system in 1932.
  • Hazard E Reeves, (K2GL), invented the stereophonic sound system used with Cinerama.
  • Stan Danko, (W2SGG), was the co-inventor of the printed circuit.
  • Steve Wozniak, (WA6BND), was the co-founder of Apple Computer.
  • Jack St. Clair Kilby, (W9GTY), was the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000, for his invention of the integrated   circuit.

Experimentation, however, is not the only justification for governments around the world to preserve valuable frequency space for use by radio amateurs. In the United States, ham radio operators are granted licenses for the purpose of training themselves in wireless communication, while at the same time they learn skills that are valuable for careers in engineering, or communications technology. It also provides the country with a pool of skilled radio operators for use in times of emergency. Ham radio serves as a vital backup communication system when phone and power lines are down. Radio amateurs relay information to emergency services, each other,  and government agencies when called upon. This hobby is not only fun. It can save lives.

These are hams
Ham radio operators are just ordinary people with an interest in the magic of radio, and how a voice can travel through space from the other side of the world and be captured by a piece of wire, to be received loud and clear at their station. Once licensed they wonder why they waited so long, as the enjoyment of this hobby gets better and better as you explore it's many possibilities.

Hams are truly "citizens of the world." They are men, women, and youngsters, the able and disabled from all walks of life. National boudaries, politics, color, sex, or occupation, are no barrier to amateur radio. Anyone can get a license, no matter their age, or level of expertise. If you are interested in getting your first license, we’re here to help. Contact the Wireless Society of Southern Maine to learn more about licence classes and test sessions in your area.

Ham RadioHam Radios

Buying Your First Radio
Equipment Reviews
The Boatanchor Classifieds
Choosing a Ham Radio
Rig Pix Database
Tips for choosing your first ham radio

Amateur Radios come in many varieties, depending on whether you want to set it up as a base station, talk while you're on the road, or take it on the go. Base station radios have all the bells and whistles, including manual notch filters, built in digital signal prosessing, antenna tuners, electronic keyers, and offer multi band, multi-mode operation. Many base station rigs features large digital readouts that display everything from your transmit and receive frequencies, SWR graph, real time spectrum scope, output and received signal meters, and more. They generally offer 100W and 200W on HF, and around 50 on VHF and 70cm.

As microprocessor technology has advanced, many of the features which were only available on base station rigs a few years ago, are now being offered on very small mobile transceivers as well. The Icom IC7000 is the size of a VHF mobile radio, but offers "all band, all mode" operation, as well as some advanced memory and digital signal processing that can be found on larger, more expensive radios.

One of the biggest advancements over the years has been in the performance of handi-talkies, or HT's. Nowadays, they have excellent range, offer dual band or even four band coverage, and can be operated on several modes, including FM, AM, and digital. Some of these are no larger than a cellular phone, and can easily fit in your pocket.

QSL cards
To a ham radio operator, a call sign is his or her identity. It serves as a passport into most countries via the airwaves, and identifies the individual as well as their nationality to other hams around the world. Each nation has a unique prefix, which allows another station to immediately determine where they are calling from. For example, all U.S. hams have a prefix starting with either an A, K, N, or W.  

Ham radio is not anonymous. Once you copy a call sign, you can look it up in one of the various call  
books and learn more about the other station, including their address. This is important if you want to exchange QSL cards...

Whenever hams make a contact or “QSO” for the first time, they'll exchange specially designed post cards through the mail. This serves as physical proof that the radio contact actually took place, and is a good way to keep in touch.

QSL cards often provide information about the station, such as the operator's location, zone, grid square and county as well as confirm and record details about the contact, such as date, time, mode, frequency, and a signal report. Many hams personalize their QSL cards by including photos, artwork, other interests, and stories.

The Technician license is the first license for newcomers to amateur radio, and it is by far the most popular license held by U.S. hams. With this license, you'll be able to communicate with thousands of other hams using many of the modes available to amateurs. Once you gain experience, you'll be ready to upgrade to Generall class, and eventually to the top-of-the-line Amateur Extra class. These licenses gain more privileges on the HF bands.

The first step is to begin studying for your Technician class license. One way you can do this is by taking one of our one-day courses, which will prepare you for the exam, or study on your own. To get your license, you'll need to pass a 35-question, multiple-choice exam on the rules of ham radio, simple operating procedures and basic electronics. To gage your progress, try taking a practice exam online. Once you start passing it with some regularity, then its time to take your test.

Here are some links to get you started:
WSSM Intro to Ham Radio Presentation (January 2019 Edition)
WSSM Intro to Ham Radio Presentation (June 2022 Edition)

Dan Romanchiks No Nonsense Study Guide eHam New Ham Info ARRL Get on the Air! QRZ Practice Exams


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Wireless Society of Southern Maine, P.O. Box 6833, Scarborough, ME 04074