You’ve probably heard of a ham radio before, but do you really know what it is?

Ham radios utilize non-commercial radio frequencies for the purpose of communication and amateur broadcasting. They let anyone broadcast a message on a particular frequency, which anyone else with a ham radio can tune into. This can be a fun pass-time for radio enthusiasts, and a life-saving tool for others.

If you’re considering getting started with ham radio, keep reading. Let this be your guide to ham radio basics.

Ham Radio for Beginners: Why Use Ham Radio?

There are plenty of reasons to use a ham radio today.

Many industries use ham radio to keep in contact. Truckers, for example, typically have ham radio systems installed in their rigs. This lets them communicate with other truck drivers, as well as dispatchers.

Emergency crews, from the police to ambulance workers, communicate through ham radio, too. Ham radio is considered more reliable in situations like this than alternatives like cellphones. Cell signal tends to go down depending on where you are, whereas radio frequencies are less likely to dip.

Ham radio becomes extremely handy during emergencies, like hurricanes and earthquakes.

Beyond emergency and industrial use, some people use ham radio to broadcast their own radio stations. They may talk about certain subjects over the radio, and seek out other broadcasts for entertainment purposes. This is one of the most popular ways to enjoy ham radio.

Getting Started With Ham Radio: The License

The first thing you’ll have to do is get your ham radio license.

That’s right, you need an actual license before transmitting anything over your ham radio. Ham radio licenses are put in place to reduce the likelihood of misuse and mischief over the radio waves. There are a lot of ham radio users, and causing trouble and panic over the waves isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Thankfully, licenses are free and easy to get. It requires a couple of classes on responsible use, then a test. Depending on the level of license you want depends on how long of a commitment you’ll need to make.

There are three types of ham radio licenses available: Technician, general, and Amateur Extra.

Technician is the first license you should get. This lets you access frequencies 50 MHz or higher. With a technician license, you can transmit on the 10-meter band.

General class lets you broadcast on almost all frequencies, excluding certain high frequency bands.

Amateur Extra class gives you access to those few lowest frequency bands not allowed by general and technician licenses. These frequencies are mostly used by morse code operators.

You’ll need to renew your license every 10 years, but that’s also free and doesn’t require any further testing.

Once you get your license, you can transmit across the world using your ham radio and the right equipment.

The Call Sign

Every ham radio operator needs a call sign. These are given to ham radio operators after they’ve been awarded their license.

The call sign helps authorities identify legal ham radio users. These call signs follow specific formats based on your country. Canada, for example, requires a call sign comprised of two letters, a number, the three letters.

You can change your call sign over the internet as long as the sign isn’t already taken. Many will do this for the same reason they customize their license plates: for fun. There are tons of creative combinations you can make with the allowed format.

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Ham Radio Equipment for Beginners

Depending on what you want to use your ham radio for depends on what equipment you’ll need to get. Here are some basic pieces of equipment any beginner should consider:

Handheld Transceiver

You might want to start with a handheld transceiver or HT. These devices resemble walkie-talkies, only they’re sturdier and have longer, thicker antennae.

A handheld device is perfect if you’re interested in local transmission only. You can use them to communicate with and listen to other ham users in the area. If you’re planning on using your radio for emergency communication, this is also the way to go.

You can get a basic HT for around $100 if you look in the right places. For a higher-end model with a longer range and better quality, you might be looking at $300 – $400.

Base Station

Maybe you have bigger ham radio dreams than just local access. Maybe you want to start a radio broadcast!

If that’s the case, you’ll need a base station. You can connect your HT device to a base station box, which in turn is attached to an external antenna on your roof. That will give you a much wider range of broadcast, allowing users from far off to listen to your broadcast.

The higher the power of your base station, and the higher up your antennae, the further your signal will reach.

An all-band base station will get you the furthest reach and the clearest broadcast. They’ll let you tune into more frequency bands, allowing you to take full control of ham technology. Once you’re familiar with ham radio, you might want to look into an all-band station.

Mobile Station

Lots of people like to use their ham radios on-the-go. A mobile station can be installed in your car, giving you roaming access to ham radio broadcasts. You can also broadcast straight from your car.

This is great for communication on long drives, and reliable emergency contact on the road. It also saves you money on in-home setup. You won’t get as great of range as an all-band station, but you will get the typical range given off by a basic base station.

Learn the Ham Radio Basics

If you’re interested in the exciting world of ham radio, follow this guide on getting started with ham radio. You’ll be well on your way to amateur radio expertise in no time.

For more on radio, technology, and beyond, check out the rest of our blog!

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