Many people and vehicles use APRS to broadcast their location. Their radios act as beacons, and they can be seen online here: http://aprs.fi. (Give it a minute to load – you may have a lot of data to show in your area.) This map provides up-to-date, accurate location information showing people, vehicles, boats, etc., as they continuously transmit packets GPS of data to other APRS-compatible radios. Take a look and see for yourself.
You can see a recent snapshot of APRS activity across the U.S. here, from late 2010: http://www.aprs.org/maps/USA-Turkey-10.png. As you can see, most of the APRS traffic takes place in urban areas or near highways, but plenty of people in rural areas use APRS too.
A ham radio operator is issued a call sign by the FCC, after he or she passes a licensing exam. The call sign is used to identify the person operating the radio, whenever transmitting on ham frequencies. Since 1934, west of the Mississippi, call signs that start with “K” are issued, and east of the Mississippi, call signs that start with “W” are issued. If you listen to music on the radio in the car or at home, you will occasionally hear the station announce “This is KMPS” or “You’re listening to WKRP” (or some other combination of letters) – this is their call sign, also issued by the FCC. Since the station is a business, their call-sign is a slightly different format, but the idea is the same. People who talk on certain frequencies have to identify themselves with a call sign. When you get your license, you’ll get your own call-sign!
If you’re willing to pay a few dollars extra, you can get a call-sign with letters and numbers that you choose, called a “vanity call sign.” And depending on the level of license that you choose to get, they will be anywhere from four to six characters long. If you are able to get the “Extra” license, you can get a call sign with four, five, or six characters. Having a “General” license will allow you to use five or six characters, and the “Technician” license will allow you to use six. If you prefer, you can keep the original six-character that you are issued by the FCC, regardless of what additional licenses you may get later. Here are some fun possibilities, combining different characters: N0HOW, K1SS, K0RN, W0MAN, WA5HME, and KN1TTR. When it’s your turn, you choose!
Do you want to look up a call sign? You can do that here: http://www.qrz.com/.
If you’re looking for more details, you could also try the FCC database directly: http://wireless2.fcc.gov/UlsApp/UlsSearch/searchLicense.jsp.
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!
These links will provide some additional, general information about ham radio: