Welcome to the hobby of amateur or ham radio!
Learn more about how you can eaisly become a licensed ham radio operator.
What is ham or amateur radio?
Ham radio is a not only a hobby but also a great way to make new friends and stay in touch when all else fails. Ham radio to put it simply is all about communications which may include talking on the radio, sending digital information or using morse code. Communication is possible throughout the county, across the state, around the world and even throughout Outerspace! As of February 2023, there were more than 767,000 licensed ham radio operators in the United States. Here in Tennessee, we have about 19, 800 licensed operators. Check the ARRL page for other states, a complete breakout by license class and the current license counts at arrl.org/fcc-license-counts. Being an amateur simply means you are not paid and is not a reflection on one’s skills or abilities.
Who are and who may be a ham radio operator?
Ham radio operators have a common interest in radio and communications and beyond that they come from diverse backgrounds. Ages range from about 5-years old and there are some operators over 100 years old. Some operators have disabilities but with the various ways to communicate many are still able to enjoy the hobby. Some get into ham radio for emergency communications as a public service while others enjoy exterminating and trying out new things as they relate to RF (radio frequency). This is just one of the aspects that makes being an amateur radio operator so great!
Do I need a license to use a ham radio?
Yes, as the Federal Communications Commission regulates all aspects of the RF (radio frequency) spectrum. This includes television, commercial radio, business band radios, cellular phones and of course ham radio. The good news is that the test is relatively easy to pass with most people studying a couple weeks for their technician license. There are currently three levels of licenses which provide the operator with various privileges. There is no Morse code requirements for any license class. Testing may be done in-person, remotely, on paper or using a computer. To successful pass the exam a score of 70% or more is required. Testing fees range from free to $15.00 and once you pass (we know you can do it!) the FCC has a $35.00 license fee which is good for 10 years. We have volunteer examiners (VEs) locally that can schedule a testing session when you are ready!
The Technician license exam consists of 35 multiple choice questions covering basic FCC regulations/laws, best operating practices and electronics theory. This is an entry level license and allows the operator to utilize VHF/UHF frequencies and is very limited on the HF band. In Tennessee about 47% of the licensed operators are at this level.
The General class exam covers even more electronics and radio theory in addition to some additional FCC rules that the operator would need to be aware of. The exam like the Technician level has 35 questions with a score of 70% or more to pass. By upgrading to General class, the operator gains a significant HF privilege (about 95% of the allowed frequencies/bands). This class of license accounts for about 25% of the operators in Tennessee.
The Extra class exam is 50 questions (same pass ratio) but does a deep dive into more obscure FCC rules and highly technical questions on operating practices/radio equipment. While the license only provides an incremental benefit over the general class it does however include all the operator privileges granted by the FCC. Beng an Extra class puts you in the top 21% of the operators in the state. The other 7% of license holders have either a novice or advanced class privileges which are still valid but no longer available to new licensees.
The ARRL (American Radio Relay League) offers various publications for those wishing to study using a book.
There are numerous resources on the internet and one of our favorites is Ham Study. Their methodology allows you to not only study the material in depthh but also to utilize a flash card system to enhance the learning. They also offer practice tests and once you are consistently scoring 75% or better you should be ready to schedule your exam.
Now that you have studied and are ready to take the next step, we are ready to help set up your exam. The Big South Fork Amateur Radio Club as a team of certified Volunteer Examiners (VEs) to proctor your test.