To start off with, what actually is Ham Radio?
Ham Radio, also known as Amateur Radio, is a popular hobby and a volunteer public service in which licensed participants operate communications equipment. Many of which have a deep knowledge and appreciation electronics. The hobby portion of Amateur Radio is a mix of relaxation, entertainment, public service, and emergency communications. People get interested in HAM communications for various reasons, mine was primarily for emergency communications.
To become a licensed HAM operator you will need to have a basic working knowledge of electronics, radio technology and operating principles. You will also need to pass an examination for the FCC license to operate on radio frequencies known as the “Amateur Bands”, but I’ll include some links below that will make that process an easy one. These bands are radio frequencies reserved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use by hams at intervals from just above the AM broadcast band all the way up into extremely high microwave frequencies.
There is no longer a requirement that you learn Morse Code for any of the licenses.
The first beginner’s level license is the Technician’s license and in all truth should be considered a “Learner’s Permit”. There are numerous publications, study manuals and online courses to help you learn the technical details to enable you to pass the written exam. The exam consists of 35 questions selected from a bank of 396 possible questions. You must answer at least 26 out of the 35, that is a score of 74% or better to pass.
The best way I have found, (along with a number of friends in our local HAM club), is to use one of the web sites listed below to memorize the test questions and get into the hobby so you can actually start to learn how to use the radio. Again, this first level if licensing is a “Learner’s Permit”.
This web site offers free test preparation for the Technicians, General and Extra license. They do ask you to register with a valid email address. Under the Resources tab they have a link to Practice Amateur Radio Exams. The exam questions are randomly selected from the pool of questions and you get feed back on every answer, right or wrong. Your final grade is displayed at the end and it tells you which sections you should concentrate your studies on.
This next one basically does the same thing, just uses a different format and you don’t get feedback on your answers until you complete the test.
This is a good site that is full of information and valuable links to continue the learning process.Anyone can be an Amateur Radio operator or “ham” –no matter what age, gender, or physical ability.
So why as a prepper should I have a HAM license & radio?
So that you can communicate almost anywhere you are if the systems like landlines, cell phone and internet networks stop working for whatever reason. In times of disaster, when regular communications channels fail, a HAM radio allows you assisting emergency communications efforts and if you want, work with public service agencies. Wherever you can take a radio, you can set up a communications site. It was the Amateur Radio Service that enabled New York City agencies to stay in touch with each other after their command center was destroyed during the 9/11 attack. Ham Radio was also used extensively and for rescue during Hurricanes Katrina and more recently Sandy, and then in the aftermath after all other communications systems failed and were not repaired for some time.
So, how much will this cost me?
You can purchase the Basic study materials for passing the FCC test and getting your initial license usually cost for less than $40. Many HAM clubs sponsor classes to help the future HAM obtain the knowledge to pass the tests. Goggle HAM clubs in your zip code, you may you surprised how many are out there. Once you have your first license, it’s best to start with simple equipment and as you learn more invest and grow your equipment over time. I spent less than $200 to get my first handheld dual band radio with an external antenna that boosted the range so I was able to start talking to other hams in no time at all. There are also HAM radio “Flea Markets” put on by local clubs all over the country and they can be a source of both new and good used equipment to save you a few dollars.
I’ll have a follow up post on basic equipment a beginning HAM should consider in the near future.