Getting licensed in Amateur Radio is easier than you think
Copied with permission from Getting Licensed in Amateur Radio is Easier Than You Think by Tom Fuszard
Now that you've decided to try your hand at amateur radio, you may wonder: what's the next step? What's involved, and what does it cost? As a member of a ham radio club, I get those questions all the time. I'm always eager to talk about amateur radio, but I find occasionally that a little explanation is in order.
Some people confuse ham radio with the Family Radio Service or Citizens Band. Those are designed for folks who just want to chat over short distances--really short, in the case of FRS--using inexpensive equipment that doesn't require a license. Amateur radio is more involved, but it also offers the hobbyist more choices and opportunities. It is designed to be the experimenter's service, so the FCC permits a wide range of activity. A deeper discussion of the hobby will be saved for a later column. For now, we want to talk about how you can jump into the wonderful world of amateur radio.
First, a little primer about licensing. There are three classes of license in the Amateur Radio Service: Technician, General, and Amateur Extra. Each offers a certain amount of privileges, which increase as you progress to a higher class or level. The wonderful thing is, though, that you decide how far you want to go. Many folks attain Extra Class, but others are quite content with a lower class of license. All three levels offer great opportunities to operate across the radio spectrum using a wide variety of equipment. So you're not likely to get bored. You proceed at a pace that's comfortable for you, and upgrade when and if you wish.
The Technician and General Class exams have 35 multiple-choice questions; the Extra Class exam has 50 questions. A passing score of 70% is required for all exams. That equates to 26 correct answers on the Technician and General Class exams, and 37 correct on the Extra Class exam.
You will start with the Technician Class exam. Study guides are available from a number of sources, including, the American Radio Relay League (arrl.org), the W5YI Group (w5yi.org), and Amateur Electronic Supply (aesham.com), among others. At least one Web site, QRZ.com, offers online practice tests. You can "test" yourself to see how well your studying is going. (Official tests are taken in person.)
However, before even doing that, I suggest you track down a ham radio operator to act as a mentor (known as an Elmer). You will probably have some questions as you study the material. Plus, your Elmer can help you find an exam session. Once licensed, your Elmer will help you choose the right equipment, and will review with you the on-air procedures and etiquette.
Do you have a ham radio operator for a neighbor or a co-worker? If not, the Web site for the American Radio Relay League can help. Click on the "Clubs" link found near the top of the home page, and follow the instructions from there. Feel free to visit a couple clubs. Find one that you're comfortable with, and mention that you're interested in finding an Elmer.
Once you're "ticketed" (as we call it) and have your equipment, it's time to start taking advantage of the wonderful opportunities available to you. Among these are charity rides and walks. Public service is very important to ham radio operators, who provide basic communications for the larger walks and rides in your area. Sign up, and join your fellow hams as they provide an important service to a very worthwhile cause.
Sound exciting? What are you waiting for? Take that first step toward earning your amateur radio license, and you'll be well on your way to a very rewarding "career."
Tom Fuszard, KF9PU, has been a ham radio operator for more than 15 years. He can occasionally be found on Milwaukee-area 2m repeaters as well as on certain HF bands. Tom blogs frequently at Squidoo.com; this column is based upon a lens, Amateur Radio and you, he has there.
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