Amateur Radio is the grandfather of all forms of radio communcation. It’s usefullness as a form of emergency communcations is unparalleled. We will look at this form of communcation in Part 3 of our series.
If you missed Part 1, you can read it here:
If you missed Part 2, you can read it here:
Amateur Radio operators, also know as Hams, have pioneered radio communcation since the first decade of the 1900s. Amateur radio is the most flexible and most powerful of all forms of radio communcation. It is also the most regulated. To become a ham radio operator you must pass a test. When you pass the test, you will be granted a Technician license. There are actually three licenses classes. Each requires a test, each is successively more difficult to pass, and each carries with it more privileges.
The three license classes are Technician, General, and Amateur Extra (commonly referred to as “Extra”). For decades, knowing Morse Code was a requirement for obtaining a ham radio license. However the FCC has dropped the Morse Code requirement, which went into effect in February 2007. Now, you just have to study and pass a test.
When you have a ham radio license, there are many “ham bands” that can be used. The ham bands are areas of the electromagnetic spectrum that the FCC has set aside for amateur radio operators to use. Hams can communcation on the HF, VHF, UHF, Microwave, and Satellite bands. However, the license you hold governs which bands you are able to transmit on.
A Technician license allows you to transmit on the VHF and UHF bands. These are “line-of-sight” forms of communcation, and are generally only good for 0 to 50 miles. However, when the conditions are just right, you can talk over distances of hundreds, even thousands of miles. But, that doesn’t happen continuously. Just some of the time.
General and Extra class licenses allow you to transmit on all of the amateur radio bands. You can transmit on HF, which is good for some local communcation, but is primarily suited for long distance communcation. Often hams can transmit on HF for thousands of miles. It is commonplace to talk to people in other countries halfway around the world.
The amateur radio service is called “amateur” for a good reason. No business transactions can occur over amateur radio, and no money can exchange hands between ham radio operators. That’s why it’s called amateur.
So, now that you have had a brief introduction to amateur radio, you must be wondering how well suited it is for emergency communcations. It is ideal.
The FCC allows hams to transmit on a great number of radio frequency bands for primarily one reason. Amateur radio operators provide emergency communcations support during disasters. In exchange, the hams have these bands set aside for their exclusive use. These same bands are the envy of commercial communications companies, who would love to have them for commercial use. But the FCC has set aside these bands for hams because of the support they provide during emergencies. Also, it’s all volunteer. No amateur radio operator is paid anything for their assistance during a disaster.
There is a slogan in Amateur Radio, “When all else fails, Amateur Radio.” What it means is that when normal communcation services go down, for whatever reason, there is always amateur radio communcations available. Generally in an emergency, ham radios are on the air within minutes providing communcations for emergency service personel who have lost their normal forms of communcation. Hams pay for their equipment with their own money, and they maintain it with their own money. It is generally not cheap, just because of the many different types of equipment that hams end up owning. However you can get started with ham radio for $200 – $500. Less if you go to a “ham fest” and purchase equipment. Ham fests are flea markets for amateur radio equipment. You generally can find just about anything there. From new gear to some that is decades old, but still works.
Hopefully, you have enjoyed this introduction to amateur radio. If you would like more information, just go to the ARRL website located at:
The ARRL is the national association for amateur radio and provides many services to the amateur radio community.
If you would like to get started with amateur radio, here is another site you might find of use:
You may be wondering how I know so much about ham radio. I hold an Amateur Extra class license and have been licensed since 1990. I am also a Volunteer Examiner and can administer and grade licensing exams.