Amateur (Ham) Radio

Amateur (Ham) Radio – The Ultimate Guideline

Our role, in one sentence, is to make it easy for you to learn about the amateur radio (also known as Ham radio) communication system and introduce different related accessories to achieve the best ham experiences.

Whether you need to know about the Ham license, Q codes, frequencies, contest, bands, antennas or nets, we got you sorted!

You also able to study in-depth on different types of amateur radios (eg- handheld, mobile, base stations, manpack, etc.) and specialties, features, usability for each type of ham radio. This information can very helpful for beginners to start the Ham radio journey.

According our real experience, we have provided very important suggestions regarding amateur radio’s battery, power supply, tower, headphone, microphone, and more accessories to help you to use hassle-free Ham radio communication system.

You probably just heard a friend say he bought a Ham radio, and he regrets not buying it years ago! So, you are now curious and wondering, what is Ham radio? Let’s see!

What Is Ham Radio?

Ham radio is a hobby and communication service that uses designated radio frequency bands for non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, Contesting and emergency communication.

A Ham radio is a special type of radio that has stood the test of time because it does not depend on the internet. So, it is the most reliable communication, especially during hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Yeah, even during artificial disasters such as bombs and fires. Ham radios can be such a vital asset.

Ham radio operators use a variety of modes, including voice, digital, and image, to communicate with other operators around the world or in their local community.

Getting involved in Ham radio requires obtaining a license from the government, which requires passing an examination on the rules and regulations of operating a radio, as well as basic electronics and radio operating principles.

Ham operators use a variety of equipment, from simple handheld transceivers to complex base station setups with antennas, amplifiers, and computers.

Why Is It Called Ham Radio?

The history of ham radio is interesting. First, what does the HAM radio stand for? The Ham radio stands for HYMAN-ALMY-MURRAY.

Let me explain further. HAM referred to the first-ever wireless station in 1908, which was established by three Harvard Radio Club amateurs, namely;

  1. Albert S. Hyman
  2. Bon Almy
  3. Poogie Murray

The three decided to name the CALL station in memory of their names; Hyman, Almy, and Murray. Hence, HYMAN-ALMY-MURRAY became the radio code.

Sadly, with time, the code sounded too big for most people, and there was a need to shorten it. Consequently, the trio settled on shortening the code by extracting the first two letters of their names, so the new code became HY-AL-MU.

Unfortunately, the trio had to change the code again because, a mix-up arose between the Mexican ship, called ‘HYALMO,’ and the trio’s station.

To solve the problem once and for all, Hyman, Almy, and Murray decided to use ‘HAM’ as the station CALL, an abbreviation obtained from the first letters of their names.

When HAM, which originated from the first letter of the amateurs that started it (Hyman, Almy, and Murray), was in its initial years of operation, there was no regulatory body governing the operation of wireless amateur stations.

During this time, amateurs could decide what frequency and call letters to use. Sadly, some big commercial companies feared crumbling down due to the small Ametuer that had better signals than theirs.

Soon after, there was an attempt by the Washington congressional committees to bring down the Ametuer companies by limiting their use to stop their interference by proposing legislation for the stations.

Coincidentally, ALBERT HYMAN, who, at that time, was a student at Harvard University, settled on Wireless Regulation Bill as his Thesis topic. His instructor was highly intrigued by the Thesis.

Therefore, he urged Hyman to make a copy of it and send it to DAVID I. WALSH. David was a committee member and a senator who was present during the hearing of the proposed bill.

Upon reading it, the senator called Hyman to appear before the committee, which he did. In his effort to save the small radio station, Hyman shared how it was initiated.

Further, he explained that they would not afford to continue their operations if the bill went through because of the high license cost and the other requirements imposed on their stations.

At this time, HAM became the symbol of all other small stations that wanted to survive the Wireless regulation Bill axe. Consequently, at the mention of HAM, everyone thought about Amateur radio operators, so everyone now thinks of a HAM as an amateur and vice versa.

Definitely, this is where it obtained the name ‘Ham radio.’

Types of Ham Radios

Ham radio encompasses a diverse range of activities and radio communications, requiring the production of various types of radio transceivers to support the operations under the Amateur Radio Service.

Different type of Ham radios use in different situations. This article provides a brief overview of the most prevalent types of ham radios used in the United States, as well as their corresponding capabilities.

Mainly you will get 4 types of amateur radio. Let’s learn more on those Ham radios-

  1. Hand-Held Ham Radio
  2. Mobile Ham Radio
  3. Ham Radio Base Station
  4. Manpack/Portable Ham Radio

1. Handheld Ham Radio

Handheld Ham RadioOften, you may hear amateurs call a handheld ham “HT,” which stands for Handheld Transceiver. Also, due to its small size and shape, most may confuse it for a walkie-talkie. It’s ideal because you carry it with you wherever you go.

The Handheld Transceiver (HT) is a widely used type of ham radio. Despite its compact size, it is capable of delivering excellent communication performance in situations where a larger radio may not be suitable or necessary.

To transmit signals, the handheld Ham radio uses Frequency Modulation, abbreviated as FM. However, it is less powerful than a mobile ham or base station, so it can only transmit signals several miles away.

Features of Handheld Ham Radio:

  • For signal transmission, this radio uses Frequency Modulation (FM). However, it can only transmit up to about 5 watts of power.
  • Handheld ham radios typically cover VHF (Very High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency) bands.
  • A major pro of the HT radio is that you can view vital information, for example, the range you are in and the frequency.
  • Handheld ham radios run on rechargeable batteries, which typically provide up to 8-10 hours of operating time.
  • Handheld ham radios are designed to be durable, weather-resistant, and shock-proof to withstand use in harsh environments.
  • The speaker and mic are integrated in handheld ham radios to keep it small due to its usage. This radio often come with removable antennas, allowing for the use of different types of antennas for different operating conditions.
  • Handheld ham radios typically have multiple channels, allowing for communication on different frequencies.
  • You will also easily access the controls on the radio keypad and the knob. This radio usually have voice and/or tone-activated transmission (VOX or TOT) capabilities for hands-free operation.

These are some of the common features of handheld ham radios, and the specific features can vary between different models and manufacturers.

Usability of the Handheld Ham Radio:

Handheld ham radios are useful for a variety of applications. Here are some examples:

  • Monitoring Operations: Since the transmission of signals is just a few miles away, the HT is only applicable for monitoring activities around your home or in the office.

    This limits your movement and helps you focus on other essential tasks. Also, your productivity could be better with less movement.
  • Emergency communications: Handheld ham radios can be used as a backup means of communication during emergencies, natural disasters, or power outages.
  • Field operations: Handheld ham radios are useful for outdoor activities, such as hiking, camping, and outdoor sporting events, where portable and durable communication is required.
  • Local Communication: Due to its small range, the handheld radio can only be used locally for stable communication. Maintaining a short range keeps the signals clear so that you will not have to keep repeating for the other person to hear what you are saying.
  • Public service events: Handheld ham radios can be used for communication during public service events, such as charity walks, marathons, and bike rides, where a compact and portable radio is desirable.
  • Experimentation and hobby use: Handheld ham radios can be used for experimentation and hobby use, such as for communicating with other ham radio operators, practicing digital modes, or for portable operations.
  • Agricultural Departments: Besides talking about the crops and yield improvements, agricultural specialists from various departments within a short range can use the Ham to talk about crop diseases and insect infestations and their avoidance.

    Other vital subjects the amateurs talk about include soil improvement and the management of nutrients

These are some of the common applications of handheld ham radios, and the specific usability can vary based on the operating conditions and the specific needs of the user.

2. Mobile Ham Radio

Mobile Ham RadioDo you love touring different places to have fun or work? Maybe you are a driver, a taxi man, or someone who loves driving a lot, but you are looking for the most reliable system of communication, then mobile Ham radio is for you!

This is the type of Ham radio is typically a compact device and installed in vehicle dashboard to keep your communication going. To talk, you need to use a handheld microphone. This mic features a push-to-talk switch.

Some mobile ham radios come with a remote control head or faceplate that can be mounted in a convenient location within the vehicle.

One great thing about them is that they eliminate noise during communication making them the best communication radios for use when driving on any roads, including rough ones.

The mobile ham radio is connected to an external antenna that is mounted on the vehicle and linked through a coaxial cable.

You do not want anything getting in your way when driving. So, placing the radio chassis under your car seat is a great idea. Other areas where you can mount the chassis include your car’s dashboard. For the chassis operation, a remote control works effectively.

Mobile Amateur radios may use any modulation based on your model. The available modulations are FM, modulations and Singled Side Band (SSB).

Features of Mobile Amateur Radio:

  • Mobile hams have a digital screen, which is small in size. On it, you will see vital information, for example, frequencies. They also feature a direct entry keypad; hence there are minimal chances of error.
  • A handheld microphone with a push-to-talk switch is usually included with a mobile ham radio, allowing for easy communication on the go.
  • Some high-end mobile hams are programmable. Such allows you to use your computer to customize the hams settings. What is more? You do not have to keep searching for your favorite channel; you can program it to save any channel.
  • Featuring a maximum power output of 50 Watts, the mobile type of ham radio has a better range and power than the handheld one. With the help of an amplifier, the Singled Side-band (SSB) can give an output of not less than 100 watts.

    A radio frequency amplifier would work wonders in amplifying the signals.
  • Most mobile ham radios support multiple frequency bands, allowing for communication on different frequencies depending on the user’s needs.
  • Nevertheless, the Singled Sideband modulation is the best as it offers stable communication over long distances. In this situation, it uses the ionospheric skip propagation (over the horizon).
  • Mobile ham radios are equipped with an external antenna that is mounted on the vehicle and connected to the radio through coaxial cable to strengthen the signals.

    Since mobile hams are used in vehicles, they are designed to reduce noise from external sources while you are driving.

Usability of The Mobile Ham Radio

Emergency Alert: Used in vehicles, such as tow trucks, taxis, tourist vehicles, and parcel delivery cars, among others, mobile amateur communication radio is a must-have when you face disasters on the roads.

It offers the most stable type of communication, even in the most remote zones. So, if the weather gets really bad, and you get stuck on the road due to snow or floods, you can use your ham to call the rescue center for help.

Echo Link: You have heard it said, “Birds of the same feather fly together.” So is it to mobile stations (licensed); these amateurs know each other.

So, drivers traveling often can interact with others through their hams and get in touch with their friends and families.

3. Ham Radio Base Station

Ham Radio Base StationThe Ham base station differs from previous both handheld and mobile ham radios. It also known as ham radio transceiver. This radio designed specifically for base stations are typically larger and offer more capabilities.

While handheld ham radios are designed for portability and do not require a dedicated setup space, a ham base station requires a secure and stable location for installation, such as a room in a house or at a work site.

There are two types of base stations, programmable and non-programmable. The programmable base station is preferred as it offers manual programming through a computer, which is cost-effective and improves the efficiency of the ham radio.

The operator of a base station can use a handheld microphone, a desktop mic, or a boom mic for communication. An external antenna, usually mounted on a mast or tower outside the home, is commonly used to enhance signal strength.

To transmit signals over a wide range, a wide variety of base station antennas are available in the present market. These antennas effectively boost the signals, especially in the direction the antenna is pointing.

Setting up a ham base station involves planning and preparation, as well as choosing the perfect ham radio base station to ensure the best operating experience.

According to the set Amateur Radio Service Legal limitations, any base station has a right to amplify its signals up to a maximum of 1500 watts. An external RF amplifier is ideal for boosting purposes.

Features of Ham Base Station:

The typical ham base station boasts an output power of 50-100 watts, with AM (Amplitude Modulation) being the most commonly used mode with 25 watts of output power.

Additionally, many base stations come equipped with an LCD color touch-screen and a spectrum scope feature. The base station is designed with compact, solid construction and durable materials, providing reliable and seamless communication.

Some base stations use single Sideband modulation, which means they can use several formats in their operations. For instance,

HFF + 6 meters, all modes: The bands in this format are: 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 30, 40, 60, 80/75, and 160 meters. Inclusive also is the 6-meter VHF band.

Typically, the operation mode, which is in use in any of the bands above, includes: FM, AM, SSB, and Digital operations.

All band, all mode: In this case, a mode is usable within a band. This means that all bands and modulation types in the format of ‘HF +6-meter’ are included in the transceiver. However, the UHF and VHF are also inclusive.

Based on the model and your manufacturer, you may get a base station restricted to the single-sideband modulation as well as the single-band transceivers.

Usability of a Ham Base Transceiver:

Installing a base ham communication radio has great benefits; for example:

The Ability to Communicate With Anyone in Sky Space: A base ham operator can comfortably communicate with anyone they wish while in space without worrying about communication breakdown.

Using It to Connect to the Internet: With a base station radio, accessing the internet becomes easy due to the presence of the repeater network.

Communicating During Emergencies: This radio has stable signals which allow you to communicate without any pressure coming from disconnection or any distractions whatsoever, even during times of crisis, for example, tornados, and floods, among others.

Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS): It is easy to trace the aircraft, and this is not based on weather conditions or other factors.

Short-Wave E-Mail Gateway: Also, anyone can email their colleagues, friends, or relatives through the short-wave e-mail gateway.

4. Manpack Ham Radio

Manpack Ham RadioA Manpack radio is a type of mobile radio that has an incorporated rechargeable battery. It can be charged from an external power source, making it easy to carry.

The term “portable” means that you can move this ham in different location for operation. This doesn’t make it a mobile amateur radio. While the mobile is always on the move, the portable communication radio is transported to another zone to operate from there (not permanently, though).

For example, an operator may take their base station on a camping trip and power it with a battery for communication. Manpack radios have a greater transmission range compared to handheld ham radios.

While there may be distractions, they are not many, and it all depends on the quality of the radio you are using. Some ham communication radios use Frequency Modulation, abbreviated as FM when carrying the signals.

If the signal becomes weak based on where you are, it can be equipped with an external ham antenna to boost the transmission signal. So, there should be no communication breakdown or distractions whatsoever.

Features of The Manpack Ham Radio

Lightweight: Due to their small size, these hams are easy to carry along regardless of where you are going, which helps keep the communication going.

Battery Backup: The Manpack radio comes equipped with a rechargeable battery that can be charged from a power source either at home or in a vehicle.

Power Output: Their minimum power output stands at 5 watts and the maximum at 100 watts. Though they may not be as powerful as other hams, they are highly efficient because they can easily be carried around.

Usability of Manpack Ham Radio:

Many people and sectors use portable hams, especially due to their portability. Some of the most common departments using it include:

Agricultural Sector: A portable ham has been largely used during the training sessions that researchers and farmers receive from the Centre for Ecological Research on the usage and maintenance of the radio.

That is not all! Farmers and researchers could communicate daily on essential matters regarding farming for the good of their crops and the yields.

Space Usage: There are no people in space. So, any astrologer in space often feels lonely due to isolation from humanity. For this reason, they use the radio to talk to other amateurs, relatives, or fellow workmates.

Monitoring: Be it in the industries such as oil manufacturing or lighting companies, among others, portable hams can be used by amateurs to communicate with other staff within the company.

This helps the company to keep track of the processes within the company and take the necessary measures as deemed fit based on the information received.

How to Use Ham Radio?

  1. Get a Ham Radio License: First things first! A license is a must for you to start using the radio. There are different types of licenses, namely: General License, Technician License, and Amateur Extra License.
  2. Begin Setting up the System: The setting up of the radio involves connecting it to a power source and then connecting the mic. Next, turn it on so as to talk to other amateurs.

    For a great communication experience, you need to connect the antenna, too. You also need to have an antenna and a receiver.
  3. Set up the Frequency Based on Location: Depending on where you are operating the radio, you will need to set the frequency. The frequency determines the range of your ham.

    You can use the Very High frequency (VHF) or the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) to have a range of 30 to 300 MHZ or 300MHz to 3GHz, respectively.
  4. Start a Call: For your initial call, connect with the station. So, upon calling, say, CQ, and repeat about three times; for instance, say, “CQ, CQ, CQ calling.” Here, anyone can answer your call.

    Do not panic, be patient, and listen to hear if someone on the other end is responding. Suppose no one answers, repeat. After saying “CQ,” it would also be necessary to state your call sign.
  5. Talk to the Amateur on the Other End: Once the person on the other end responds, please be direct to the point and say why you called.
  6. Be Part of the Conversion: People using a ham hear the conversation on progress. So, when you join, you may hear a conversation in progress, which you can always join without interrupting.

    Discipline is key, so wait until one person is done speaking before you speak. If there is a disaster and you need to disrupt the ongoing conversation, say, “break” to give room for others to listen to you.
  7. End the Call: If there is nothing more you have to say, remember to end the call. You do this by saying, “Best Regards” or “73”.

Benefits of Ham Radio

Ham radio offers a wide range of benefits for both the individual and society as a whole. If you still have not owned a ham communication radio, you miss out on many things! These radios have many benefits, for example:

Stable Communication in Emergency: Unlike smartphones that need the network to talk/chat with others, Hams are non-dependent on it. Moreover, you communicate with people just a few or millions of miles away. Interestingly, you also do not need a cell tower to have stable communication with other amateurs.

Ham radio operators are trained to provide communication during natural disasters, power outages, and other emergencies when regular communication systems are unavailable. This can be a lifesaving resource for communities during times of crisis.

You Are in Control of the Whole Situation: When smartphones were introduced, most people thought the ham communication radios would be a thing of the past. Not so! Here is why: Smartphones proved unreliable when natural and artificial calamities occurred.

Besides, smartphones heavily depend on the internet to send emails, and Hams do not need it. They, therefore, became the most reliable mode of communication between amateurs around the globe.

Public service: Ham radio operators often provide communication for local events and public service activities, such as marathons, bike rides, and parades.

Wireless Communication: Unlike the internet, which requires thousands of cables to transmit data from the sender to the recipient(s), Ham communication radio needs no cables.

Did you also know that besides the cables passing underground to keep you connected with other people, others underwater offer global internet traffic?
All these cables need maintenance once in a while.

Besides, natural disasters often affect these cables. This directly impacts your connection negatively, maybe, when you are desperate to pass vital information to somebody or a company.

International communication: Ham radio allows operators to communicate with other hams from around the world, fostering a sense of community and global understanding.

Secure Communication: Due to the current advancement of technology, hackers have increased, and the bugs, too. This is not the case with hams.

Personal fulfillment: Ham radio can be a highly rewarding hobby that provides a sense of accomplishment and a connection to a community of like-minded individuals.

Modes of the Ham Radio Operation:

Simplex: The name says it all; it is the simplest form of operation. So, in this case, operators have only one option, to send or receive information.

This means that as a sender, you cannot obtain information but only send it. On the other hand, the receiver cannot reply to the received information; they can only receive it from senders.

Half Duplex: This operation is more relaxed than the simplex. Hence, you can send or receive information and vice versa. Even so, sending and receiving data cannot happen simultaneously; it has to be one at a time.

Full Duplex: This is the highest level of operation and is highly advanced. The sender and receiver can simultaneously send and receive information, respectively.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How Much Does a Ham Radio Cost?

The cost of a ham radio can vary greatly depending on the type and features of the radio. Basic handheld transceivers can start at around $30 to $50, while higher-end mobile or base station setups can cost several hundred dollars or more.

A complete station with a transceiver, antenna, and accessories can cost anywhere from $500 to $5000 or more. The exact cost will depend on the brand, model, and specifications of the radio.

Q. How Far Can a Ham Radio Reach?

The range of a ham radio depends on several factors such as the power output of the transmitter, the height and type of antenna being used, local terrain and atmospheric conditions.

The type of ham radio you are using determines the shortest or farthest range it can feature; for example, a handheld transceiver with a 5 watt output, the average communication distance is around 5 to 10 miles, while mobile transceivers installed in vehicles can reach up to 50 miles or more.

Nonetheless, your license also determines the farthest range your radio should feature, and you must comply with that.

When using a directional antenna and a higher power output, distances of several hundred miles or more can be achieved. In optimal conditions, some amateur radio operators have even made contacts over thousands of miles using high-frequency (HF) bands.

Q. Can You Take the Ham Radio Test Online?

Yes! You can take a Ham radio test online, but you must achieve a score of at least 74 percent. On 30th April 2020, there was a public notice that anyone willing to be an amateur could do a test online.

This declaration by The Federal Communications Commission made it easy for people to own Hams and to do tests remotely. To make this a success, the FCC started working with approved Volunteer Exam Coordinators (VECs) who conduct the tests in person or online.

Most VECs use a zoom meeting for the class, so a webcam is necessary. In some cases, a qualified invigilator, too.

Q. Why Do You Need a Ham Radio License?

A ham radio license is required in order to legally operate an amateur radio in most countries.

The license will ensure that ham radio operators have the necessary knowledge and understanding of radio technology and regulations to use the ham radio spectrum responsibly and avoid interference with other communications.

Ham operators use a high frequency of not less than 30 MHz. This is the privilege you get only after passing the technician test and getting the Ham radio license.

Q. Can You Use a Ham Radio as a Walkie Talkie?

Indeed! You can use a ham radio as a walkie-talkie, though they have low power and short range. Nonetheless, they are still effective for communication.

To have undisrupted communication, you must always stay within the recommended range. Also, use the stated power level—the low power and range stop signal interference with other amateurs.

Final Words

By reading this far, now you understand what is Ham radio, what you need, and the test necessary for its ownership. This is an important tool for emergency communication and helps to preserve the long tradition of amateur radio.

Ham radio is a hobby and a form of communication that allows individuals to transmit and receive radio signals using special equipment. You can use it during contestants, radio ports, non-commercial recreation, disaster alert, and self-training.

Ham radio operators are required to obtain a license from the government regulatory body, such as the FCC, to ensure that they have the necessary knowledge and understanding to use the radio spectrum responsibly.

Ham radio can be used for personal communication, experimentation, and emergency communication, but must only be used for non-commercial purposes.

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