Ham Radio Operations – How Does It Work?

Andy Klugman Written By:
Andy Klugman
Rick Brandt Fact Checked By:
Rick Brandt
Ham Radio Operations

Recent years have seen a drastic rise in the use of ham radios. For most people, it is a thrilling hobby. You probably just learned about it a few days ago and wondered: ham radio operations, how does it work?

For you to be involved in ham radio operations, you must do an examination and successfully pass to acquire a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). You make a connection by listening to know if a frequency is not occupied. If there is none, you can start contact by saying, ‘CQ’ or answer a call from another amateur using the same code. Most hams use a hand radio. Hand radios communicate by receiving and sending radio waves through an antenna.

In this article, I will discuss ham operations and everything you need to know about how they work.

Without wasting time, let me get started.

Ham Radio Operations

All ham radios operate on a limited frequency, which should be licensed. Also, amateurs must own a license to communicate with their ham radios and receive unique ham radio call signs.

You get the license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after you have successfully sat for a test and passed.

With the license, you can operate on Amateur bands, also known as radio frequencies allocated by FCC.

Another key thing to know is that every ham uses a radio to communicate globally with other people. So, it does not matter if it is a hand-held voice communication radio, a brass telegraph key, or an automated message transmitted through satellite; they all operate similarly: they use a radio to make connections.

How Do Ham Radios Communicate?

A Ham operates in the gigahertz range. Normally, they operate from AM broadcast to a microwave region. You will likely find most hams operating at an AM ham radio frequency (1.6 MHz) above citizens’ frequencies (27 MHz).

If you want to make a long-range connection with an amateur at night, the best frequency would be 1.6 to 15 MHz. On the contrary, the best frequency for long-range communication during the day would be 15 to 27 MHz. Often referred to as short-wave frequencies, these frequencies work differently from the TV and radio stations’ frequencies.


Shortwave frequencies bounce off the ionosphere to the receiver’s antenna from the transmitter. On the contrary, TV and radio stations transmit radio waves in a line of sight. This limits the radio waves transmission to only 40 to 50 miles.

The wavelength is shorter when the frequency is high. Morse codes are the best to use during ham radio operations because they go through even when the voice transmissions will not. So, how does a ham radio work?

Radio teletype, abbreviated as RTTY, is the most commonly used by hams in combination with computer screens. These computer screens are essential in replacing the old’s noisy teletype machines. However, a hand-held radio is the starting point for most hams.

How Does A Hand Radio Work?

The handheld radios use the VHF FM frequencies. A handheld radio transmits and receives radio waves on two different frequencies: one transmits, and the other receives.

These small, portable radios use FM repeaters and are supported by local radios. How? To communicate with hams from other counties and countries, they need to extend the range of their signals.

For this to be successful, the hand-held radio repeaters must borrow antenna space. They get it from people with TV station towers installed on high buildings or mountains. The received signals are re-broadcasted through the antenna space — increasing the range.

After the FM repeater receives the signals, it rebroadcasts them to another frequency. To extend the ham radio range by hundreds or thousands of miles, the re-broadcasted signals are transmitted using more powerful watts than those received from the handheld ham radio.

However, to avoid any frequency interference, the frequency pairs being used are assigned (informally) by groups of hams. Consequently, the frequency pairs repeaters are always distanced from other repeaters. If you did not know, a repeater uses a frequency pair ( regular transmit and receive).

Parting Line

You need to sit for a test, pass, and possess a license on FCC to start doing ham radio operations. The greatest joy of being an amateur is that you can make connections with anyone from any part of the world.

To start communicating with other amateurs, you say, ‘CQ’ or answer using the code if another amateur calls. Before that, however, you must listen to know if a frequency is unoccupied.

As a new amateur, you can start with a handheld ham radio. With the radio signals being re-broadcasted to increase their range, nothing should stop you from making contact with anyone around the globe. Besides, you can carry it anywhere since it’s small and light.

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