What’s a Ham?

Ham is an informal and time-honored name for an amateur radio operator.  Amateur radio and ham radio are synonymous, as are amateur and ham in the context of radio.

What a strange moniker for such a noble practitioner!  How did we get to be called hams?

Well, the absolute truth is lost to history and there is a fair bit of disagreement and some urban legend out there.  But we know Continue reading

Zed, not Zee

A side note to the previous post on using a phonetic alphabet–

When formally identifying yourself or another radio station with the letter Z in the call sign we use Zulu for proper ITU phonetics.

But we don’t always use phonetics for identification.  Once the call signs have been logged and acknowledged properly, we typically identify with call signs spoken normally (no phonetics).

So here is the wrinkle…  If there is a letter Z in any call sign, we should not pronounce “zee” when using non-phonetic identification.  Z is easily confused with C and to a lesser extent, G and P and T and V, especially if there is interference or noise.

To avoid this, simply say “zed” instead of “zee” when not using phonetics.  Zed is how the originators of the English language pronounce that last letter of the alphabet anyway, so let’s give the UK a show of support.

Using Zed solves the confusion and it’s widely known and understood.  You will hear experienced hams say Zed all the time when they’re not using phonetics.  Just remember to say Zulu when phonetics are needed.

It’s Zed, not Zee.  Get into the habit!


One of the first things a new ham needs to learn when they get on the air is the phonetic alphabet.  Because many alphabet letters sound the same over the air it is important to use phonetics when spelling out words or giving your call sign accurately.  This is particularly important when checking into a radio net, which is where many new hams get started.

Proper amateur radio protocol uses the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) phonetic alphabet.  You are likely to hear other phonetic alphabets on the air but should learn the ITU version and use it.  Start learning Continue reading

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.  Howsoever, we can identify six basic things that hams do:

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

Learn more about amateur radio from these excellent references:





Welcome to the NewHams.info site.  Its purpose is to provide training, information and general encouragement to new or prospective amateur radio operators (hams).  Sort of a virtual “Elmer”, as we say.  Experienced hams should find it interesting and useful as well.

Organized in sort of a blog format, post topics are usually small and simple. You can scroll through the posts sequentially or search for key words or click on a category of interest.

The reader can sign up for email notification of new posts by clicking on the Follow button below Categories on the sidebar.

Topics generally cater to USA hams getting started in amateur radio with local VHF/UHF communications.  However, HF band operators and hams in other countries should find something interesting here as well.

You will see US license exam questions and answers in green boxes in various posts to refresh your knowledge.