What is Ham Radio?
Who is the typical Ham?
What is the appeal of Ham Radio?
Why do you need a license?
How can I get
Must I learn morse code?
Why do they call themselves "Hams"?
ARRL, The national association for Amateur Radio since 1914.
Tell me more.
What is Ham Radio?
A housewife in North Carolina makes friends over the radio with
another ham in Lithuania. An Ohio teenager uses his computer
to upload a digital chess move to an orbiting space satellite,
where it's retrieved by a fellow chess enthusiast in Japan. An
aircraft engineer in Florida participating in a "DX contest"
swaps his call sign and talks to hams in 100 different countries
during a single weekend. In California, volunteers save lives
as part of their involvement in an emergency response. And from
his room in Chicago, a ham's pocket-sized hand-held radio allows
him to talk to friends in the Carolinas. This unique mix of fun,
public service and convenience is the distinguishing characteristic
of Amateur Radio. Although hams get involved for many reasons,
they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology
and operating principles, and pass an examination for the FCC
license to operate on radio frequencies known as the "Amateur
Bands." These bands are radio frequencies reserved by the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use by hams at intervals
from just above the AM broadcast band all the way up into extremely
high microwave frequencies.
Who's the typical Ham?
Amateur Radio operators come from all walks of life -- movie
stars, missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, truck drivers
and just plain folks. They are all ages, sexes, income levels
and nationalities. They say Hello to the world in many languages
and many ways. But whether they prefer Morse code on an old brass
telegraph key, voice communication on a hand-held radio, or computerized
messages transmitted via satellite, they all have an interest
in what's happening in the world, and they use radio to reach
What's the appeal of Ham Radio?
Some hams are attracted by the ability to communicate across
the country, around the globe, or even with astronauts on space
missions. Others may like to build and experiment with electronics.
Computer hobbyists enjoy using Amateur Radio's digital communications
opportunities. Those with a competitive streak enjoy "DX
contests," where the object is to see how many hams in distant
locations they can contact. Some like the convenience of a technology
that gives them portable communication. Mostly we use it to open
the door to new friendships over the air or through participation
in one of more than 2000 Amateur Radio clubs throughout the country.
Why do you need a license?
Although the main purpose of Amateur Radio is fun, it is called
the "Amateur Radio Service" because it also has a serious
face. The FCC created this "Service" to fill the need
for a pool of experts who could provide backup during emergencies.
In addition, the FCC acknowledged the ability of the hobby to
advance the communication and technical skills of radio, and
to enhance international goodwill. This philosophy has paid off.
Countless lives have been saved where skilled hobbyists act as
emergency communicators to render aid, whether it's during an
earthquake in Italy or a hurricane in the U.S.
Why do they call themselves
"Ham: a poor operator. A 'plug.'" That's the definition
of the word given in G. M. Dodge's "The Telegraph Instructor"
even before there was radio. The definition has never changed
in wire telegraphy. The first wireless operators were landline
telegraphers who left their offices to go to sea or to man the
coastal stations. They brought with them their language and much
of the tradition of their older profession. In those early days,
every station occupied the same wavelength-or, more accurately
perhaps, every station occupied the whole spectrum with its broad
spark signal. Government stations, ships, coastal stations and
the increasingly numerous amateur operators all competed for
time and signal supremacy in each other's receivers. Many of
the amateur stations were very powerful. Two amateurs, working
each other across town, could effectively jam all the other operations
in the area. Frustrated commercial operators would refer to the
ham radio interference by calling them "hams." Amateurs,
possibly unfamiliar with the real meaning of the term, picked
it up and applied it to themselves in true "Yankee Doodle"
fashion and wore it with pride. As the years advanced, the original
meaning has completely disappeared.
Do I have to learn morse code?
Not any more! While many hams LIKE to use Morse code, it is not
For more information about the wonderful world of Ham Radio,
including videos and the sounds of signals on the air, go to
The bulk of the above text is the copyrighted material of
the American Radio Relay League, Inc. We appreciate the opportunity
to make use of it on this page to promote Amateur Radio.