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It’s so easy to get an amateur radio license!  You’re going to be really surprised.  It used to be that in order to get a license you had to know Morse code and pass a Morse code test, but they totally dropped the requirement in 2007.  Lucky us!

Which License?

All right, so basically there are three levels of amateur radio licenses.  The entry-level license is “Technician Class,” the intermediate license is “General Class,” and the advanced license is “Amateur Extra Class.”  The big difference between the different licenses is that higher-level licenses are able to use more radio frequencies.  Amateur Extra Class licenses can use all of the radio bands.  If you find that you really love HAM radio, you’ll probably want to move up later, but for now you’ll start with the Technician Class license.

Here’s what you’ll need to do:

1.     Study for the Technician level exam. There are a few great ways to go about this:

  • When I got my license, I just borrowed a book from the library.  The American Radio Relay League (or “ARRL”) publishes books to help you study.
  • There are also free podcasts or free lessons online to help you study for the exam.
  • Sometimes churches or community groups will have a study class that lasts about a couple months long.
  • You can find the pool of questions online, and then just study that!

2.     Once you’ve studied, find a nearby exam.  Upcoming exams are listed on the ARRL website. When I took mine, my exam was at a nearby university, through an amateur radio club on campus.

3.     Take the exam and pay your money. Volunteers help administer the tests. In order to take the exam, you need to bring photo ID, your Social Security number, and money for the exam (currently $15).  The Technician Class exam consists of 35 questions, and when I took mine it was on a computer.  If you pass one level, you get a certificate, and you can attempt to pass the next level also (for free).

4.     Wait for your callsign to be posted online. You’ll receive your license in the mail.  Once you know your callsign you can start operating your own station.  Note: after you get your license, you must keep your address updated with the FCC.

5.     Get yourself a HAM radio! I bought mine on eBay, and I think it cost me about $200.  They really range in price, though.  You can spend as much or as little as you want, really.  If you are technologically inclined, you can build your own radio from metal scraps and pay very little, or if you have a lot of money to invest in your HAM radio, you can buy a fancy radio and install a huge antenna in your backyard and probably talk to anyone on the planet.

6.     Have fun! Find a local group that you can participate with!  Other hams are eager to help new people, and you’ll likely have questions as you get started.  Hams have many opportunities to volunteer in the community or at local events, if you want to. “QST” is the main magazine for hams, and you’ll get a subscription if you join ARRL.  Hams can also participate in contests where they make contact with people in as many locations as possible within a certain time period, or sometimes hams send a personalized postcard to people they speak with.

7.     If you want to be extra-prepared, have a small HAM radio for your Emergency Kit, plus a way to power it in an emergency, like batteries or a solar charging system.

See, that’s not too tricky, is it?  Just a little 35-question exam.  You can do it, I know you can, and it’ll feel great to have that extra piece of preparation in place.

8 Responses to “How to get your HAM radio license”

  1. Rock

    You’ve rekindled my interest in HAM radio, Emily, now that I know they’ve dropped the requirement to know Morse code. I never could get a handle on that, try as I might.

  2. Fely

    I used to use a CB radio and have known friends with the Ham Radio. Since the invention of cell phone, the use of CB radio just died. Witht he emerging situation, I am now going to tale this license and be on top of it. Thanks for the education. Blessings to us all! 10-4

  3. Pat Minns

    Just reading through this topic of HAM radio for survival. I have a deep concern about being able to reach my wife and children in the event of emergency and suspect that cell phones will be useless. I looked into small, hand held HAM units, almost like a walkie-talkie, and wonder about the range. I work 25 miles from home, would a HAM hand held unit cover that distance to communicate with my wife at home?
    Thank you,

    Patrick Minns

    • Emily

      Pat –
      Thanks for your comment.
      The answer is that most likely you will. The small units generally work best for closer distances like that. It will depend on the signal repeaters that are nearby, and the type of hand held unit you purchase. My HAM radio is a small handheld one. Although I am located in central Utah, I regularly hear people in Arizona and Nevada. Most often I hear people from my region. One time I heard a guy from Australia who had some fancy equipment on his end. I would check with a local amateur radio group because they would be able to tell you for sure (based on your location) and they would be able to suggest a specific device.
      – Emily

  4. Phil Thomas

    I think you’ll find the magzine you refer to is QST and not QSL. Hand held ham radios are designed to use a local repeater to communicate any great distance. By themselves they are very limited how far they can transmit. The antenna and low power of the radio being the reason here. As for the fellow in Austraila you heard, that was a little trick using the internet to cover the great distance and rebroadcast it through a local repeater. The larger ham radios that operate on short wave do have the ability to cover the distance between other countries. They too can be purchased used for a few hundred dollars and an antenna can be made of wire and hung between just about anything to get it off the ground. I too think it’s a great idea to get your ham license and get on the air. Get used to it, and have fun, because you never know when you may need it.


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