What is ham radio? It’s the term people use to refer to amateur radio, a fun hobby for many. But why “ham”? Some people speculate that it’s because certain people involved in amateur radio back in the old days really loved to talk, to and would “ham it up”, telling long stories to their buddies when they’d get together on the airwaves to chat.
How does ham radio work? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set aside certain frequencies for people to use for non-business-related communication. People use these frequencies to talk to each other using different kinds of radio equipment. Not only can you talk back and forth on these radios, you can also send text messages, transmit GPS coordinates, talk to repeaters, send and receive TV signals, bounce signals off of satellites or even the moon. Some people have even used hand-held radios to talk with the International Space Station! That’s right – a person on the ground aims an antenna upward, tunes a radio to the right frequency, and has a conversation with an astronaut who is also a ham radio operator. Pretty crazy, right?
To use a radio that works on amateur radio frequencies, you need to take a simple test and get a license. The first license, called “Technician”, is not difficult to get, and there are a variety of books, CD’s, and websites available to walk you through the questions and answers which are all published already. Once you’ve reviewed the material and feel comfortable, you can take a test and get your own license! Many ham radio clubs administer the tests, and will be happy to help you with the simple paperwork at the same time. Soon after, you’ll get your call-sign from the FCC, and you can get on the air!