The first thing you need to know is which exam you need to take. We will assume you do not yet have an Amateur Radio license, so you will begin with a Technician Class License. This is the entry level for all hams. (Ham is a nickname for Amateur Radio operator.) Pass a multiple-choice exam of 35 questions will earn you your ticket (that's a ham license). The exams are taken from a pool of 426 questions (from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2018). Passing is at least 26 questions correct. The test covers the basic things you need to know as a licensed of Amateur Radio operator - FCC Rules; station license responsibilities; control operator duties; operating practices; radio and electronic fundamentals; station setup and operation; communications modes and methods; special operations; Emergency and Public Service Communications; radio waves, propagation and antennas; electrical and RF Safety.
What can I do with a Technician Class License?
After earning your Technician Class License, you can use all amateur VHF and UHF frequencies (frequencies above 50 MHz). You can also operate on the 80, 40, and 15 meter HF bands using Morse code, and on the 10 meter band using Morse code, voice, and digital modes.
WHAT? Yes, that's confusing, but it won't be with a little studying. Let's put it this way... you know those hams who have hand held radios and rigs (that's a nickname for radios) in their cars? They commonly communicate on 2 meters, which is around 147 MHz. (Your FM radio receives 88 MHz to 108 MHz. That's the FM broadcast band.) 2 meters is FM or VHF (Very High Frequency) and it's commonly used for local communications. The other "meter" bands (ranges of frequencies) are where Amateur Radio operators have been authorized by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to communicate with each other. Each radio band acts differently. Your FM radio is line-of-sight, which means you generally can't receive FM stations more than about 50 miles away. On your AM radio at night, you can receive radio stations from hundreds of miles away. Using other bands, hams can talk virtually around the world!
I'm totally confused! Now what?
If you're lost, don't worry. Once you start learning about Amateur Radio, all this will make sense. In fact, most of it will come as second nature. That may be hard to believe now, but just wait. A few months after getting your Technician Class License, you'll be talking tech just like all the other hams. Trust me, it isn't that hard!
Morse code? Do I have to learn that too?
No, you don't need to learn Morse code to get your ticket. In 1991, the requirement to learn Morse code was dropped for the Technician Class License test. In fact, in 2007, the code requirement was eliminated from all levels of Amateur Radio.
So, if Morse code is no longer required, why do hams still use it? You'll hear different answers on that. Some hams say it's tradition, others say it's what Ham radio is all about. On the other hand, some hams say it's outdated and needed to go, while others say we need to keep up with changing technology. The fact is, many hams still use code and even take the time to learn it because with static and other stations, code is usually the most efficient way to communicate long distance. Those dots and dashes are much easier to hear than a voice. Plus, it's another skill to learn. That's the diversity of Amateur Radio communications.
Why would I want a Ham License when I can get on CB without taking a test?
Amateur Radio is a high-tech hobby that has something fun for everyone. Hams are people from all walks of life no matter what age, gender or physical ability. Anyone can hold an Amateur License - there's no minimum age. Hams practice courtesy and respect for others.
Most of all, Amateur Radio is fun! As a ham, there are more ways to communicate. Using a small 2-meter hand-held radio you can stay in touch with other hams in your area and operate from almost any vehicle, boat or just about anywhere. Hams can send live TV in realtime or just still pictures over the air. Technician class Hams can operate FM voice, digital packet (computers), television and more. You can search for hidden transmitters in a foxhunt and take part in contests. You can even make international radio contacts via Ham Radio satellites and communicate directly to Hams aboard the International Space Station. Using a computer and Amateur Radio, you can talk or use your keyboard to communicate with other Hams locally or around the world. You can even bounce signals off the moon!
And that's just the beginning. There are also nets and roundtables where you talk in groups. You can participate in emergency communications or weather spotting. You can build your own equipment and antennas. And there are shows called hamfests to meet other Hams, learn more about the hobby, buy and sell equipment and be with those who have the same enthusiasm about Ham Radio.
Amateur Radio is a service which promotes and encourages the honing of technical and operational radio skills in order to have qualified operators to depend on in an emergency. It was created to experiment on cutting edge communications technology and techniques and to promote goodwill and the free exchange of technical knowledge among other Hams throughout the world.
In earning their license, that privilege is treated with respect. Since an Amateur Radio operator's license is a privilege that can be taken away for misuse, close attention is paid to the FCC's rules. Proper etiquette on the air is maintained through informal suggestions, peer pressure and volunteer Official Observer notices. It's a family-friendly environment.
So how do I study for the Technician Class License exam?
Books are probably your best bet beause you can take them with you anywhere to study, make notes in them and have them for reference later. There are many books published to study for your first ham license, but these two are probably the most comprehensive to help you learn about ham radio at the same time you are studying.
ARRL's Tech Q&A 6th Edition (ARRL Link) for $17.95 + shipping. It's a quick and easy study guide with the questions and answers just like you'll see on the test. But it won't leave you in the dark - the book briefly explains the answers, so not only do you learn the answers to the questions, you learn about amateur radio in the process.
If you want more detailed explanations, you might prefer Ham Radio License Manual Revised 3rd Edition (ARRL Link) for $29.95 + shipping. It has the same questions and answers from the pool, but you can also includes detailed information. You can learn about radio and signals fundamentals, electricity, components, circuits, propagation, antennas, feed lines, Amateur Radio equipment, communicating with other hams, operating regulations and safety. It even includes a welcome to Amateur Radio. (A spiral edition is also available for $3 more.)
Of course, you can also get material for free. After reviewing lots of material, the best of the what we found is on our Study Material To Earn Your Technician Class Ham License web page. We know all the sources provide helpful and instructive information to help you get you that license!
Ready to take the test? Try it online first!
Now it's time to put the book away and take the test... at home. No, you can't get your license this way, but you can see if your ready. Just go to the bottom of our Study Material To Earn Your Technician Class Ham License web page to find links to sample tests. These tests use the complete and current official VEC (Volunteer Examiner Coordinator) approved question pools and answers. Each test taken is composed of a unique combination of questions that are selected at random in accordance with the official guidelines set forth for each element and each subelement.
Where do I take my exam?
Ready to take the test? Check out our Louisville Area Amateur Radio Testing Sessions page to learn what you need for the test and where you can go to take it. If you're not from the Louisville area, then go to ARRL Exam Session Search to find testing in your area. Good luck and hope to hear you on the air soon!
Information Sources: American Radio Relay League (ARRL.org); Federal Communications Commission (FCC.gov); HamUniverse.com; North Dakota State University Amateur Radio Society (www.w0hsc.ndsu.nodak.edu); QRZ.com; Triangle East Amateur Radio Association Volunteer Examiner Team (teara-ve.ka4puv.com); Wikipedia (Wikipedia.org).