Amateur Radio Introduction
Amateur (ham) radio is a hobby in which FCC-licensed amateur radio operators (sometimes called "hams" or "amateurs") use two-way radios to communicate with each other.
The hobby takes many forms. For example, some amateur radio operators communicate locally using repeaters (relay transceivers) on mountaintops or towers. Some amateurs communicate with other amateurs across the globe. Others use amateur radio satellites to communicate. Still others transmit video images of themselves. Voice, data, and Morse code are all common modes of communication in amateur radio.
Amateur radio goes beyond being a hobby. Amateur radio operators often provide or supplement communications in emergency situations such as natural disasters. The self-sufficient nature of amateur radio communications means they can get through when other methods of communication are offline or insufficient. This is evident when, for example, a hurricane disables telephone service or when public service radio systems (and their operators) cannot accommodate all communication needs during a widespread emergency.
Amateur Radio License Classes
There are three classes of amateur radio licenses in the U.S.: Technician, General, and Extra. The FCC grants an amateur license after a candidate passes the appropriate test(s) for a given license class. Three other amateur licenses Technician Plus, Novice, and Advanced are still held by some amateurs, but are no longer being issued as new licenses.
The Technician license class is the entry-level amateur radio class. Prospective hams must pass a 35-question multiple-choice test. The test, which focuses on VHF (Very High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra-High Frequency) operation, covers regulations and basic electronics theory.
Technician-class operators are authorized to use all amateur frequencies above 50MHz.
The General class allows expanded operation on some portions of the worldwide HF (High Frequency, or 3kHz-30kHz) amateur bands.
A General class candidate must either hold a Technician-class license or have passed the Technician test. The candidate must also pass a five words-per-minute Morse code test and a 35-question multiple-choice test. The test, which focuses on HF applications, covers intermediate regulations and electronics theory.
The Extra class license allows an amateur radio operator to use all amateur radio service frequencies.
An Extra class candidate can be either a General class license holder or someone who has passed all tests required for Technician and General licensing. The Extra class test covers specific operating practices and in-depth electronics theory.