What is Ham Radio?

Ham radio is a common term for amateur radio.  It is a licensed personal communications service for non-commercial use, meaning you can’t use the airwaves to make money.

For many people ham radio is a fun and interesting hobby, communicating with people around town, across the country, or on the other side of the world using various methods.  For others it’s part of personal or community preparedness and emergency response.  Some use ham radio to talk to family and friends in remote locations where other means of communication are unavailable or too expensive.  Ham radio is also used to control high-performance radio-controlled aircraft or other RC models.

Ham radio means all this and more.  There are dozens of different aspects to amateur radio and because you’re reading this, at least one of them probably appeals to you!

Anybody can listen in on any ham radio frequency but transmitting requires an amateur radio license.  This is obtained from the federal government by demonstrating knowledge and skills associated with ham radio.  Requirements vary by country and there are usually multiple license levels available with increasing privileges corresponding to proficiency.

Ham radio can be a lot of fun but it can also be practical in times of disaster or disruption; sometimes it’s the only way to communicate.

In the USA ham radio is governed by federal regulations under 47 CFR Part 97 which lists five principles for the existence of amateur radio.  These can be summarized into four purposes for ham radio:

  • To encourage the advancement of the art and science of radio.
  • To promote the development of an emergency communication capability to assist communities when needed.
  • To develop a pool of trained radio operators.
  • To promote international good will by connecting private citizens in countries around the globe.

Hams are not all alike as there are many different aspects of amateur radio that appeal (or don’t) to individuals.  However, we can identify six basic things that hams characteristically do:

  • Communicate
  • Experiment
  • Build
  • Compete
  • Serve their communities
  • Engage in life-long learning

Learn more about amateur radio from these excellent references:




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