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Frequently Asked Questions about Ham Radio
Most people know Amateur Radio as Ham Radio. Although there is no real definitive reason why it is called HAM radio rather than amateur radio. HAM does not stand for anything in particular but one can draw from the term "hamming it up" as to what happens on the air with some amateurs.

What is Amateur Radio?

Amateur Radio is a non-commercial radio communication service whose primary aims are public service, technical training and experimentation, and communication between private persons. Amateur Radio operators are commonly called hams. Hams often communicate with each other recreationally but also provide communications for others at public events or in times of emergency or disaster.

FCC rules allow persons to obtain amateur radio licenses without learning Morse code! If you have had a basic Physics or Electronics class, you may already know enough theory to pass the tests. If you haven't had this kind of class, the material is extremely easy to learn on your own.

Who can become a ham?

In the USA, anyone who is not a representative of a foreign government can be an Amateur Radio operator. You do not have to be a citizen to obtain a license. There are tests that you must pass to get a license, however, the tests are not insurmountable. On that general level, the requirements are probably similar in almost every country.

How much does it cost to join the hobby?

To take the tests for any class of amateur radio license, there is a small charge (around $14 currently) to cover copying costs and running the testing sessions. The cost of a radio is really dependent on what you want to do. You can buy a used single-band radio for $75-$300. A new entry level radio cost about $150 to $1000 depending on the type and frequency coverage. Or you can buy a new multi-band multi- mode radio with all the doodads for $2000-$7000. I'd suggest you learn more about ham radio, talk to local hams, and find out what you want to do with ham radio first.

Where can I take the tests?

The Conejo Valley Amateur Radio club has a team of Volunteer Examiners (VEs) that conduct amateur radio license exams in Thousand Oaks, CA every two months. There are also many other locations and groups in the Southern California area. Click here for more info.


Link to ham-antennas

Good Operating Practices


Presented by Tim, AJ4D

As I fade from the VHF/UHF bands back to HF, I hope I can share some of the things that really might help other operators become better operators.

I am not the best in the world. I make mistakes on HF that most new hams would not make.

Even on VHF, I sometimes "get in a big way of talking" and forget to ID on time.
But, below are some of the things that might help everyone out somewhere down the line, QSL ?
( just had to throw that in there to show how stupid it looked ).

I really believe that the reason a lot of the new hams don't operate as much as they could is that they simply cannot figure out what the heck is being said!! It makes them afraid to talk.

The other thing is that some operators on repeaters have their own little "group" and that little group is the only one they will respond to or talk to. I hear so many new callsigns being correctly " thrown out' on repeater frequencies and no one goes back. I try to jump in and talk to them if no one goes back to them by the second try.
It makes them feel left out, looked down upon , and more like giving up on the HOBBY than anything else when they hear people talk for 30 minutes and then when they get the courage to key up, no one comes back!
What happened to being courteous!
I truly believe that is the reason there is not that much traffic on repeaters now. Why should 2,000 operators in East Tennessee keep trying over and over for days to get someone to talk to them or sit there and listen to a bunch of garbage that they have never heard of?
Remember guys and gals.....you're the "Elmers" and teachers of the newer hams!

Get on there and tell the new ham,

"Good to hear you, just get on here and if you talk on it like a telephone in plain english and ID every 10 minutes with the repeater ID timer, and sign off by saying your ID , you will learn a lot from the people on here and will be made to feel welcome".

The last paragraph above in bold text sums up how to talk on a repeater in one sentence.
This is what I was told on the 147.255 when I tried to pick up some of the bad habits and lingo that some of the idiots were using at the time. It only takes one time to tell a new ham the one paragraph above that will make them sound and feel much better on any and all repeaters.

See "A New Ham's Guide To Repeaters" for a basic understanding of how repeaters work on another page.

Procedures on radio:

It is stressed that emergency traffic always has priority. If it aint there, dont ask for it on a net or any other time!
On so many nets on so many repeaters, AND EVEN ON HF, when they start up the net; they usually say "is there any emergency traffic?"..... sort of like asking,
"Is there anybody out there that has quit breathing, or someone next to you having a heart attack, or someone in front of you in traffic that has had a wreck and is entrapped in the vehicle?


it's an EMERGENCY!!!!!!


Seventy threes, seventy thirds, eighty eights....


A little history here; CW operators in the early , early days of radio came up with the number code of 7 3 for "best regards" because of the fame of the 73 Winchester rifle. The 73 winchester was the best rifle of the time and the CW guys just took it as "seven three " SEPERATE NUMBERS WHICH IS A 7 and a 3 in CW
--... ...-- Anyone experienced in CW who listens on FM repeaters are likely to tell the operators on there saying seventy three's; that they may as well be using French to sign with, which leads me to the next one that really gripes repeater owners and control operators who have experience on HF.....

Q- signals.....


Again, they are created for and from CW and ssb traffic nets ; Q signals were developed for ease of operation on CW and ssb traffic nets.
If you ever do CW , you will find that sending QTH for " my location " is much shorter.

Speaking in voice, especially on FM using Q signals, would make me ask,"WHY DO YOU HAVE TO USE "Q" SIGNALS ??? Because it sounds "cool" ?

Why would you say, "What is your QTH, you have a lot of QRN, QUA Jim lately? QSL?"All the tech licensees are sitting there saying " what the heck is he talking about?"
Or why would you say " Hi , Hi " on voice ( CW .... .. .... .. = H I H I for humor intended) ???
Oh , by the way, coded transmissions ARE NOT ALLOWED ON VOICE per Part 97... hmmm!

Here is "q t h " in CW compared to "my location";
--.- - .... compared to -- -.-- .-.. --- -.-. .- - .. --- -.
here is 7 3 compared to best regards;
--... ...-- compared to - ... . ... - .-. . --. .- .-. -.. ...

That should explain it! Even if you dont know CW, you can see the difference in how many dots and dashes are used in each term !
Many control operators dont say anything at all about users because there are not that many users anymore and they are afraid they will ' run somone off ' .
Did they ever think that maybe that is the reason there are not that many people on repeaters, due to listening to all the LID's using CW lingo on voice ?
It is better to have a few "good operators' than 70 bad ones like on some repeaters in the larger cities.
There are courteous ways to mention these things to newer operators "on the air". Here is one of them, " Hey, you dont have to say all that Q stuff because you are on FM phone, just use it just like you're on a telephone, (remember kids are listening)..... PLAIN ENGLISH! All you are required to do is be courteous and say your callsign every ten minutes as the repeater ID's, and use it when you sign off.... and dont say seventy threes or seventy thirds...... simply say your call and bye, see ya later, etc...." Again PLAIN ENGLISH!
Another one heard on most repeaters " Man, what did you do, you are loud on me , looks like you are putting a 9 ' on me!"
NO.... Both stations through the repeater are hearing the repeater, not each other directly. THERE IS NO WAY TO TELL A STATION WHAT THEY ARE "PUTTING ON A REPEATER" as far as signal strength.
They may be able to tell the other station that "white noise", ( static), is heard on their signal or that they are "picket fencing", ( clipping in and out) , but without being at the repeater receiver with an S-meter hooked to the repeater receiver you cannot tell what signal strength the repeater is receiving.

Listening.... Monitoring.... or calling " CQ" CQ -.-. --.-
Again, when using CW, "CQ" is a lot shorter than "calling any station".
ON FM, SIMPLY KEY UP AND SAY YOUR CALLSIGN OR ASK IS ANYONE ON THIS REPEATER. Make sure you don't "double", (talk at the same time), in any circumstances or band!!


SSB = sideband, LSB/USB
LSB = lower sideband (used on 40m through 160m.)
USB= upper sideband (used on 20m,17m, 15m, 12m, 10m and also on 6m, 2m, and 440 band.)

When making a call, be sure to listen for a few minutes, which is a good rule to use on any frequency or band! Just because you cannot hear anyone for a minute on HF does not mean that someone else is not listening to a reply from a distant station that they can hear and you cannot. This happens all the time.
Someone will tell a friend to move to " so and so frequency" and they go there and just start talking.... well, Ol' Jim in kentucky may be sitting there listening to Ol' John in California giving a parts list out for an amplifier and Ol' Jim may be using a directional antenna pointed west while your antenna is going north and south. You can't hear John and and Jim is listening to John. If you say your call, Jim should politely tell you "standby'. Chances are he will either remember your call or jot it down so he can return your call when he gets the chance.

On FM repeaters though, listen,................ then just "drop in your callsign" ...... Chances are no one will come back , but dont give up. Maybe all the "QSL'ers" will someday learn to send CW and learn they had been using the wrong operating procedures and come back and talk to you like a normal person on the repeater.

Last but not least .....

ZED is NOT listed as a phonetic for the letter "Z". ZULU is the correct phonetic.
Zed' may be picked out the noise incorrectly as "head" and a broken leg may be transmitted as a "head" injury due to the station misinterpreting ZED' .... Give us a break people! QSL?????? .
.............We copied Tim! Thanks!.........N4UJW

Tim AJ4D

What can I do with a ham radio license?

There are so many things, it's a difficult question to answer, but here's some ideas:

  • Talk to people in foreign countries either by ionospheric propagation or via amateur satellites.
  • Talk to people (both local and far away) on your drive to work.
  • Help in emergencies by providing communications.
  • Provide communications in parades or walkathons.
  • Help other people become hams.
  • Hook your computer to your radio and communicate by computers.
  • Collect QSL cards (cards from other hams) from all over the United States and foreign countries and receive awards.
  • Participate in contests or Field Day events.
  • Provide radio services to your local Civil Defense organization thru ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) or RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service).
  • Aid members of the US military by joining MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System).
  • Participate in transmitter hunt games and maybe build your own direction-finding equipment.
  • Have someone to talk to on those sleepless nights at home.
  • Receive weather pictures via satellites.
  • Build radios, antennas, learn some electronics and radio theory.
  • Send and receive live television pictures.


What can't I do with an Amateur Radio license?

The most important thing you can't do is transact business of any kind over ham radio (under new FCC rules, some types of personal business transactions are now allowed, however, there are still major limitations). Interference to other hams or services, as well as obscene, profane or indecent language is not tolerated and is illegal. Music and broadcasting are not allowed on ham radio.

Some personal conversations may not be appropriate to Amateur Radio. Do you really want the whole world to hear about Aunt Mabel's arthritis?

What are the different US amateur classes and what can each of them do?

Technician Class

Hams enter the hobby as Technicians by passing a 35-question multiple-choice examination. No Morse code test is required. The exam covers basic regulations, operating practices, and electronics theory, with a focus on VHF and UHF applications. Technician Class operators are authorized to use all amateur VHF and UHF frequencies (all frequencies above 50 MHz) and are entitled to limited power outputs on certain HF frequencies.

General Class

The General Class is a giant step up in operating privileges. The high-power HF privileges granted to General licensees allow for cross-country and worldwide communication. Some people prefer to earn the General Class license as their first ticket, so they may operate on HF right away. Technicians may upgrade to General Class by passing a 35-question multiple-choice examination. The written exam covers intermediate regulations, operating practices, and electronics theory, with a focus on HF applications. In addition to the Technician privileges, General Class operators are authorized to operate on any frequency in the 160, 30, 17, 12, and 10 meter bands. They may also use significant segments of the 80, 40, 20, and 15 meter bands.

Extra Class

The HF bands can be awfully crowded, particularly at the top of the solar cycle. Once one earns HF privileges, one may quickly yearn for more room. The Extra Class license is the answer. General licensees may upgrade to Extra Class by passing a 50-question multiple-choice examination. No Morse code test is required. In addition to some of the more obscure regulations, the test covers specialized operating practices, advanced electronics theory, and radio equipment design. Frankly, the test is very difficult, but others have passed it, and you can too. Extra Class licensees are authorized to operate on all frequencies allocated to the Amateur Service.

How long is your band?

When talking about frequency, and especially about "bands" (divisions of spectrum made for the purpose of allocation), it's very common to see frequencies specified in units of length (meters and centimeters being most common) instead of in units of frequency (kilohertz, megahertz, or gigahertz, or, more archaically, kilocycles or megacycles). When a length unit is used, it specifies the wavelength involved. The wavelength of a light wave is, of course, directly related to its frequency: the wavelength is the distance the wave travels (at the fixed speed of light) over the period of one oscillation, and so wavelength is just speed divided by frequency (and frequency is speed divided by wavelength).

Fortunately, the math for this is pretty simple, especially in the metric system (which even us backward Americans use when doing ham radio, thankfully). By pure serendipity, the speed of light (in a vacuum) is approximately 299,792,458 meters per second; this is close enough to 300,000,000 meters per second that for most purposes the latter value can be used. So to convert a wavelength in meters to a frequency in megahertz (or vice versa), one must merely divide 300 by the wavelength (or frequency). Hams routinely refer to all the amateur bands below 200 MHz by their wavelength instead of their frequency, and it's quite common to hear the higher frequency bands by wavelength as well, so it's important to be able to do this translation on the fly (at least until you memorize the more common ones). Fortunately, dividing into 300 isn't that hard.

So when a ham talks about the "160 meter band", they're not talking about a really long parade; instead, they're talking about a band whose wavelength is approximately 160 meters, which corresponds to a frequency of about 1875 kHz. The 160 meter band is actually 1800 to 2000 kHz, so this is pretty close. Other examples (more pertinent to the student preparing for the Technician exam) include the 6 meter band (50 to 54 MHz), the 2 meter band (144 to 148 MHz), the 1.25 meter band (222 to 225 MHz), the 70 centimeter band (420 to 450 MHz), and the 23 centimeter band (1240 to 1300 MHz). Please do note also that these band definitions apply only in ITU Region 2 (and obviously only in the United States or other places where the FCC regulates amateur radio), and that other restrictions based on location may also apply (especially with respect to the 70 centimeter band, which has a lot of interesting restrictions on it).

Of the questions on the Technician exam related to this, two present an additional challenge that cannot be resolved simply by dividing into 300, as there are incorrect answers that are "close enough" that you can't eliminate them based solely on approximate wavelength. Therefore, it's very important that you commit to memory the limits of the 6 meter, 2 meter, and 70 centimeter bands given above, not only for the purpose of passing the exam but also for the purpose of responsible operation.




SARA Field day