What Is Amateur "Ham" Radio?
Amateur radio, a.k.a "Ham" radio started over 100 years ago and is still popular today. It is one of the most wide-spread and diverse activities you can find anywhere world wide. Most people might look at amateur radio as that big box with glowing tubes that grandpa used to sit at for hours. It is much more than that. Amateur radio has participants from all walks of life and does not discriminate between age, gender, creed, color, or any other factor. It is the one activity that is available to everyone, anywhere, and you may never know who you find talking at the other end. Over the years there have been many famous people who were "hams," from royalty to actors, musicians, politicians, and many others notable in history.
The number of hams in the USA (including U.S. territories) is growing with over 730,000 active Amateur licenses as of August, 2015. Many Hams love to build their own equipment and experiment with different types of technology. Amateur radio is responsible for the development of many different types of technologies now commonly used in a variety of industries. If building is not for you, there are lots of new and used commercially-built equipment available. There are more different types of activities you can do with amateur radio than we can even try to list on this page. Activities range from talking to local friends on the VHF/UHF and microwave bands to talking to friends anywhere across the planet on the HF bands. There are many different modes from voice and CW (a.k.a morse code) to dozens of different digital modes using a computer and radio. If outer space is your thing, there are several satellites available to amateur radio use including talking to the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). As mankind creates bases on the moon and planets, you can bet amateur radio will be there.
Whether you are just learning to get your license or have had your license for a while, you should check out your local amateur radio club. Clubs can be a wealth of information to help you out and answer any questions you may have. We encourage you to join your local club, and if you're in the local area we hope you'll join KARS. Clubs rely on your dues to maintain repeater equipment, web sites, and other functions and projects in which the club is involved.
In the United States there are several organizations certified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to administer amateur radio exams. These organization are part of the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC). One role of the NCVEC is to establish the current question pool that is used for each class of amateur radio license. Question pools are good for a four year period. Questions may change or be deleted during the current 4 year period due to changes in Part 97 of the rules and regulations governing Amateur Radio in the US. Current question pools are:
Technician class valid 07/10/2014 to 06/30/2018
General class valid 07/01/2015 to 06/30/2019
Extra class valid 07/01/2012 to 06/30/2016
All current question pools with revisions and related graphics can be downloaded from the NCVEC site.
Amateur Radio license classes are given from time to time around our area and are a great way to get your license. Classes are generally run by local radio clubs as well as local high schools and community colleges. There are also businesses that may offer local and online classes for a fee. Some of these can be expensive. Classes offered by radio clubs are generally free except for the cost of the book used in the class.
KARS has hosted license classes and license exams for several years. Our classes average a 90% passing success rate! Watch our site for listings of future classes.
Getting A Book To Study
To start learning you will need to get one of the Amateur Radio License books that are available. If taking a class, you will need to find out which book the class is using so you get the same one. Although all the books in theory teach the same material needed to pass the current question pool, they will vary greatly on how they arrange the material within the book and how deeply they cover the material. One of the main titles to look for is "Ham Radio License Manual" by the ARRL. Another is "2014-2018 Technician Class" by Gordon West.
Check your local book stores. If they do not carry those titles you can also order them online. Some books will come with a CD with software, support material, and practice exams to go along with the book. Amazon.com and Ebay.com are good sources for new and used books. You can search for other book vendors online. Try to look for a book that has the current Technician question pool listed above. If you get an older version of a book with an older question pool, you will also want to download the current question pool and graphics to study instead of using the question pool listed in the book.
Practice, Practice, Practice
To go along with a book, we would also recommend using any of the free online practice exam sites and even download one of the free practice exam programs if the book you're using does not already include a CD with practice exam software. Some links for online practice exam sites are:
ARRL.org Practice Exams
DXZone.com Practice Exams
eHam.net Practice Exams
QRZ.com Practice Exams
RadioExam.org Practice Exams
Free practice software titles include "Ham Radio Exam" and "Ham Exam Helper". Most of them are for the Windows operating systems but you can also find them for other systems. You can look by searching the sites I mentioned above or googling "ham software". Please be sure the software you find is using the current question pools dated above.
Taking An Exam
Exam sessions may be sponsored by any number of radio and non radio clubs and organizations. They may be sponsored by your local schools, churches, libraries and even your area Parks & Recreation Department. Anyone can sponsor an exam session, but only a valid certified Volunteer Examiner (VE) team can administer the test. Although most exam sessions do allow for walk ins, they do encourage you to pre-register just so the VE team has a head count of the number of each level of exam books and answer sheets they need to have on hand.
There are several organizations that are certified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to administer amateur radio exams. The two VEC groups that you will find most often in our area are the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) VEC and the W5YI VEC. You can contact either group for exam dates and locations near your town. There will be a small fee to take the exam. Each VEC will set their own fee amount. The current maximum fee amount set by the FCC is $15. Fees can be paid only by cash or check payable to the VEC organization. Please check with the VEC team administering the test for their current exam fee amount.
ARRL VEC exam search
W5YI VEC exam search
For the exam you will need to have photo id such as a drivers license or school id card and also know your SSN for the license paperwork. You can bring a simple calculator (no programmable memories) if you need it. The VE team will furnish pens and blank paper for calculations if you need it. No cell phones or other electronics allowed while taking the test.
If you pass the Technician level exam, you can then also take the General level exam at no additional cost. I would recommend trying for the General level even if you haven't studied for it, you might surprise yourself and pass!
The KARS club in Coeur d'Alene tests every month before our club meeting. You can visit our VE Testing page for more information. Spokane has 2 different active VE groups (ARRL and W5YI) that test fairly often. For dates and other exam info go to the ARRL VEC and W5YI VEC links listed above.
When you pass your Technician class exam, it will take as little as 5-10 days (longer depending on number of licenses being granted) for your new call sign to appear in the FCC database. You must see your license grant listed in the database before you can transmit on the radio. Your paper license will arrive in the mail within one week after it is listed online. You can look for your new call or upgrade by going to FCC Callsign Search. If you already hold an amateur radio license and are only upgrading, you can start using your new General or Extra band privileges as soon as you pass the exam by appending "/AG" for General or "/AE" for Extra to the end of your existing call sign when using your new band sections before the change is listed in the FCC database.
Feel free to email any questions you may have to KARS club or it's officers. Also feel free to drop by our club meetings the 2nd Monday of each month.