Ham radio is what we also call amateur radio. So, if something is amateur, how can there be any beginners to that hobby or skill? Well, you will routinely learn that there is way too much that goes around a ham radio station. To successfully operate a ham radio, you need technical knowledge, understanding of key telecommunication concepts, and a license.
Once you start digging deeper, you will find that ham radio is full of technical talk, overcomplicated jargon, and terms that no one understands. All this is stuff that’s not important if you want to begin as an ideal ham radio operator.
The ham radios have a history of over a hundred years now. It’s used worldwide for a large variety of purposes. Six million registered operators worldwide, and about 750,000 in the US who carry a license: this is a staggering number.
In this piece, we are going to dissect ham radios for the beginner in detail. You can also use this information to learn how a telecommunications expert can build an amateur radio station.
The basic principles of the amateur radio service
Ham radio works on the radio frequency. Many different services utilize the radio frequency (more precisely, the utilize different and specific bands within the spectrum to avoid any clash resulting in distortion, interference, or noise). Most of those services, like air traffic control and cellphones, are formal and commercial. Many are used on such a small scale that it’s hardly worth experimenting with, like garage door openers. Some also use the citizens’ band, or CB, for informal small-scale communication between citizens in a short radius.
Ham radio is different. Its purpose is non-commercial but it’s technical enough that many users utilize amateur radio service for experimentation with telecommunications.
The band that ham radio functions are 1.8 – 1300 MHz. There are certain gaps in between. Regardless of those gaps, this is by far the widest band in use.
A ham radio user is also called a ham.
With ham radio, you can’t do anything commercial. We, as citizens, have right on the airwaves and the ham radio is our government’s way of letting us use those waves for communication. A family on hike, a family member at work miles away, a trucker who needs some critical traffic information – these are the basic means to utilize our airwaves and most people do it using the CB radio (read more about the differences here), which doesn’t require a license but is more crowded, has more interference, needs larger antennas, and also, is home to a lot of vulgar talk.
People stuck in natural disasters, organizing discussions on the air, and so on – these are situations where ham radios become very useful. But functioning as a local news station is still considered commercial. Ham radios are strictly for “person to person” communication.
This is a legit question: why ham radio? Well, ham radio works as a hobby more. This is also a reliable communication channel, so it can do much more.
Using ham radios, users can communicate long distance. They can also exchange messages and local news. Ham radios also open up new avenues to experiment with transmitting and receiving, which is a great self-training technique.
Furthermore, ham radios are an amazing recreational hobby. Private or public, users run ham radio stations for both kinds of recreation. For public recreation, think of a chat room that’s on air. User groups are controlled by Net Control. The different nets dispatch training but also discuss specific topics of interest.
There are many contests, radio sports, and awards that play out on the ham radio service. Also, “rag chew sessions” work as common meeting places for hams, facilitating round table discussions. These are informal, non-scheduled, and free for all. Net Controls are a more organized form of communication between a group using the amateur radio service.
There is another part of the ham radio service that justifies the increasing interest in them: emergency communication. When a natural disaster strikes, many forms of communication can be temporarily out of service. That’s when you can use battery- or generator-powered ham radio stations to relay critical information as well as communicate. FEMA and the Red Cross also utilize hams with their radio networks to communicate at times of crisis. Disasters like hurricanes can disable civilization. Cellphone network, internet, 911, power: everything is prone to disability. But not ham radios. These travel on radio waves which permeate the entire world. If you send a signal on a radio wave, it will communicate to the other end right through the eye of the storm.
Get your license first
Ham radio license will set you apart. You will have the ability to use higher power equipment, utilize a wider array of telecommunication techniques, as well as the power to operate in a huge part of the radio spectrum.
Beginners to amateur radio need to know that they should have enough technical knowledge to pass an exam that will give them their ham radio license to operate. If not, then they can’t do much rather than running a CB radio setup, which is more limiting and weaker than the ham radio service.
International organizations control a lot of aspects of licensing because radio communication is cross-border. But in the end, the licenses are dispatched by the organizations in the countries that allow ham radio usage for its common citizenry.
To pass the exam in your country, you should look up the organization that controls ham radio licensing there. In general, the exam tests you on the understanding of key radio communication concepts and your technical skills. If you have a gift in radio communication hardware or working, then you will have a natural distinction and an upper hand, needless to say.
For help, you can look up training courses and programs on the internet. These train you in the technical aspects and are often free as well as easy to grasp.
What after the license?
Once you have the license, it’s time to get your skills at use. You can set up your base station and start to transmit and receive. You can use it for informal communication or for taking part in scheduled meetings between different hams. You can use it to contact the International Space Station!
Now you need an antenna to capture signals. You need your radio to tune in to channels. You need a microphone to send a voice and a tuner to tune the antenna to the right band. This is just the barebones description. From antenna nets and radio brackets to noise filters, and external speakers: you can increase your effectiveness by adding more stuff.