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Ham radio is cool, but it can be very nerve wracking to talk to someone using it. Talking to someone using ham radio is commonly known as a 'QSO' or a 'contact'. Although it can seem really scary at first, you won't regret a moment of it. And after a few 'contacts', you'll be wanting to make more and more. There are many ways to make a QSO, some of the most common being through morse code (CW), phone (voice communications), and data (RTTY, teletype).

So, how exactly do you make a QSO using ham radio?

Well first, you must pass an exam and get a license...

If you are from the UK, you may consult M0HIZ for questions about the exam process as this Instructable is structured around the US process of licensing.

Step 1: Licensing

First off, you must get be licensed to operate on ham radio frequencies. It requires some basic knowledge and studying, but can easily be accomplished. Children as young as 8 years old have gotten licensed, or as hams say, got their 'ticket'.

How do you get a license, or 'ticket'?

First, you must purchase study material. There are different forms of studying material, and you should use whichever you feel most comfortable with. I, myself have studied using both online programs and books. There are different types of licenses. Each type gives you a certain amount of privileges. These are the different types:

Technician
Allows you to operate on a limited range of frequencies. You can transmit using no more than 100 watts.

General
Allows you to operate on a much larger range of frequencies. You can transmit a maximum of 1500 watts.

Extra
Allows you to operate on all ham bands and frequencies. You can transmit a maximum of 1500 watts.

What are the frequencies each licensee can transmit on? Click here to see what frequencies each licensee can transmit on.

For you to make a QSO, all you really need is a Technician class license. With the proper equipment, you can talk to people very far away using way less than 100 watts. But General and Extra licenses offer much more frequencies to transmit on and more power. The General and Extra frequencies often are better to use to make a contact with someone farther away. Why? Unfortunately there is only so much I can write in this how-to. However, you don't need more than 100 watts to have a QSO with someone anywhere in the world (as long as the conditions are good or the skip is in!).

What do you mean when you say 'conditions are good' or 'the skip is in'. Are you talking about the weather? Well, yes. However, I don't mean that when conditions are good, it's partly cloudy and the temperature is 80°F. It refers to the atmospheric conditions. If the skip is in, you could probably make a contact with someone across the globe using way less than 100 watts! And that is a huge accomplishment.

What are these study materials you talked about earlier?

There are many different programs and authors, but here are some of the most popular:

Online Programs: http://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com/ , http://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com/ , http://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com/

Literature (Books and Online Literature): http://www.arrl.org/shop/Licensing-Education-and-T... , http://www.arrl.org/shop/Licensing-Education-and-T...


I've studied and taken the online practice exams. What now? Now, you take the real exam. Where? The ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League) website has a whole section that advertises ham radio exams in your area. There are no online exams, so you must drive to the nearest place where there is an exam. ALWAYS email the examiner before going, because sometimes they cancel without notice. You can find the nearest one to you here: http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license... .

What do I bring to an exam? You should always bring 2 sharpened pencils, a pen, ~$20, legal photo ID (such as a passport or driver's license), but if you have no legal photo ID, you may bring two of the following items: Social Security Number, birth certificate, library card, or a utility bill.

Great! I passed, now what? Now you must get the proper equipment to make a QSO...

Nice to see such a thorough, well written and researched article. I got my first license in 1975, and at that time it was CW or Code only on High Frequency. I started with a wire antenna made from a design in one of the magazines, and a very, very old radio I bought for $25. Later on, I built several low power or QRP (under 5 watts) radios, and have talked to amateurs in about 159 countries. I studied for my Advanced ticket, which at the time had a much faster code requirement, and after that I was also able to use voice. It's a great hobby, fun at any age, and you don't need a lot of money to get started. Most hams are generous to newcomers, and will help out with the loan of equipment, or point you in the right direction to get some good second-hand gear. I've also been involved in several real emergency operations, where amateur radio was the only line of communication. It's been quite a while since 1975, and I'm still finding new projects to build, new people to meet both on the air and in person, and new ways of enjoying the hobby. With the Internet, we are incredibly fortunate in that so much excellent material on every aspect of amateur radio, from material needed to study for a first license, to plans for new projects and activities. One of the neatest is that many of the astronauts on the International Space Station are also amateurs, and it doesn't take much by way of equipment to chat with them. Thanks for a really good piece.
<p>Would also be nice to see an accurate reply. The general class license has always allowed voice on hf. You did not have to get an advanced license to operate voice. The general license required a written test and a 13 wpm code test. The advanced class license has been done away with. In 1975 there was a novice level license and there were voice frequencies on hf for them also. One thing that will get you ostracized on the Ham frequencies is repeating false information. Nobody minds mistakes, all make them, but all also like educated conversation. By the way for the &quot;nice&quot; police...this is nice. </p>
<p>Your information is correct for the United States' licensing requirements and classes at those times. The license classes and exam requirements differed considerably when I received my first license, and have changed at different times and in different ways than those in the United States in the intervening years. When I was first licensed, there were only two classes of license in Canada, both requiring CW. A third, VHF-only class was added later, but it was ahighly technical examination with no CW. My information was not &quot;false&quot;, but it was different, as I was licensed in another country with rules that did not mirror those in the United States. I think you will find that even now, both exams and licensing are different in our two countries. Canadian regulations and exams have changed at least 3 times since I received my license, and the examination is now much easier and is multiple-choice. Exams are now administered by experienced Amateurs who are &quot;Designated Examiners&quot; rather than by the Department of Communications.<br><br>With greatest respect, the information I gave was neither false nor mistaken for the time of which I spoke. Certainly they have changed a great deal in the intervening 41 years, but exams and rules in the U.S. and Canada are still not mirror images. 73, VE6FD.</p>
<p>does anyone know if operating a ham radio in europe is illegal? or can a license be obtained. also, are their two-way radios that operate on both FRS/GMRS and PMR446 frequencies? Or is it one or the other?</p><p>Thanks!</p>
<p>Very informative - DW7LFQ</p>
Great Information. Thanks. - N3VPP
<p>I tried to communicate on a Wouxun handheld using my GMRS call sign and had a guy telling someone I was trying to make contact with not to talk to me because I was an &quot;unlicensed ham&quot;. I used the call sign when I keyed in so they heard it. I'm trying to figure this stuff out and this is the greeting I get. Not a very friendly bunch. And BTW I paid the FCC $90 for the GMRS license not the $15 it takes for a Technician Class so don't go getting all uppity on me about that. I tried to do things on the up and up and get flack. Having second thoughts about whether I want to pursue the Technician license now. </p>
<p>SteveM111: GMRS and Amateur Radio are two completely different services.</p><p>I'll try to explain as best I can, and by no means do I intend to sound &quot;uppity&quot; so please don't take it that way.</p><p>The FCC service rules for the GMRS are located in 47 C.F.R. Part 95 Subpart A. More info can be found at: </p><p><a href="https://www.fcc.gov/general/general-mobile-radio-service-gmrs" rel="nofollow">https://www.fcc.gov/general/general-mobile-radio-service-gmrs</a></p><p>The Amateur service is governed under 47 C.F.R. Part 97 Subparts A thru F. More info on part 97 can be found at: </p><p><a href="http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=c1f1e71065a11f57c1b77147b302e541&mc=true&tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title47/47cfr97_main_02.tpl" rel="nofollow">http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=c1f1e71065a11f57c1b77147b302e541&amp;mc=true&amp;tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title47/47cfr97_main_02.tpl</a></p><p>GMRS is restricted to 25 separate channels between 462 MHz and 467 MHz whereas amateur radio spans several bands from just above the AM broadcast band up into microwave frequencies. Each of these services require separate licenses, licensing procedures and costs. There is no single license that &quot;covers it all&quot; </p><p>If you have any questions related to ham radio please feel free to contact me. I hold an extra class license and am an instructor for our local club as well as an accredited volunteer examiner thru the ARRL.ORG<br></p><p>Sorry I got long winded but I felt a thorough explanation was in order. Good Luck &amp; keep 'ibling...FN...<br></p>
<p>A couple of things-</p><p>1- While Morse is certainly a good thing to know, you don't _have_ to know it to get your ham license. It's no longer on the test.</p><p>2- You certainly don't have to _purchase_ a study guide. There a tons of free study guides and practice tests online. I used <a href="http://hamexam.org/" rel="nofollow">hamexam.org</a> and some books from the library.</p><p>3- You can get a<a href="http://www.amazon.com/ExpertPower%C2%AE-430Mhz-Antenna-BAOFENG-KG-UVD1P/dp/B008Y2SPE4/ref=pd_sim_e_8?ie=UTF8&refRID=1MZ8JPQ5ZA9WVKJNV5QX" rel="nofollow"> brand new, very serviceable beginner handheld ham radio</a> for less than $50, including a <a href="http://www.amazon.com/ExpertPower%C2%AE-430Mhz-Antenna-BAOFENG-KG-UVD1P/dp/B008Y2SPE4/ref=pd_sim_e_8?ie=UTF8&refRID=1MZ8JPQ5ZA9WVKJNV5QX" rel="nofollow">better antenna</a>! It may not reach around the globe, but it's perfectly adequate for regional coverage and getting the hang of amateur radio. Plus, you can use it to assist in case of emergencies, something hams are justifiably proud of.</p><p>I just got my technician ticket a week ago, and am looking forward to learning more about <a href="http://www.arrl.org/ares" rel="nofollow">ARES</a> and emergency communications.</p><p>Mark KG7NZQ<br></p>
<p>I bought a Baofeng HT a year ago and haven't deciphered the Chinglish manual yet...spent $20 more for a Yeasu FT 60R (needed new battery pack) on Craigslist and figured it out myself (not referring to the manual) in 5 minutes!!!</p>
Yes, the pamphlet that passes for a manual on the earlier BaoFengs is rubbish. There's a ton of information on the web, though. Best source for info on most of the inexpensive Chinese radios, including BaoFeng, is found at www.miklor.com, including a much better manual for the UV-5R.<br><br>The newer BaoFengs, like the BF-F8 or UV-82, come with excellent, completely rewritten manuals, as well as better build quality and antennas. I still highly recommend them.
<p>Now that I don't have to study Morse Code to get licensed, I'll take the test one of these years....</p>
<p>Nice and concise.</p><p>73, Tex</p><p>N5ANE</p>
<p>I am following a DXPedition vk9wa this month and looking for some general information on ham radio when I found your article. It's just the right amount of information .. concise enough to engage the casual reader with enough links for someone who wants to dig deeper. I got my basic license decades ago but I forgot a few of the abbreviations over the years. Thank you Ethan! </p><p>VE7NSX</p>
Good stuff!
great instructables my names is Jim and Im now just getting interested into ham radio, and I want to take my technicains license this year , you have left some great tips that I will be using hopfully in the near future, and you have left me with a lot to consider as well. Thank you
Good job, Ethan - <br> <br>Recently a girl only 6 year of age passed her Technician class license. There was some brouhaha over whether she could actually understand and manage the responsibilities and &quot;dangers&quot;, as if she were going to be building a kilowatt amp. But yes, with very little effort, you too, can join the ranks of Amateur Radio. <br> <br>Additionally, one can (and I can provide documentation) contact other hams thousands of miles away with &lt; 1W of power, using Morse Code, which is a very power-efficient mode. <br> <br>And current exam fee in the US is $15. I just gave exams last night :) <br> <br>73, <br>John KK1X <br> <br>
<p>Cool! Where can I go to get my license? I live in Columbia MO and I googled around, but usually results are several hours away :( Where do you recommend I look next to get my license?</p>
<p>There is testing in Columbia, MO every month sponsored by CMRA, http://www.k0si.net/ .</p>
<p>This is a very good instructable! This is what sparked my interest of ham radio! Thank you! Also, I am an official ham operator too! Right now, I am waiting for an ht so I can make contacts on my local repeater.</p><p>73</p><p>James KD2HUT</p>
<p>As far as the power limits go, with exceptions a technician can use up to the legal limit of 1.5KW. According to part 97.303 the whole part here is talking about limits so you have to watch out where you are in regards to power. Some of the 1 1/4 meter band and most of the 70 centimeter band does have limits, but not the 100 watts described in this article. The other thing I will recommend is have a copy of the rule that guide Amateurs on your desk or at least in your library!</p><p>73</p><p>Russ, KG4MAV</p>
im Just an hobist that Is intersted in eletronics do i need a lisence to play with a diy spark gap transmitter<br><br>
<p>I hope you have already discovered the correct answer: (summarized from ARRL, the national organization for amateur radio) You are not allowed to transmit using a &quot;spark gap transmitter&quot; according to FCC regulations; no license exist for that mode and it is illegal due to all the problems associated with it. If you tried, you would endure the wrath of the FCC and anyone operating a receiver for miles around. Spark left the air by 1923 due to the nature of the transmission and its interference with other radio and was outlawed in 1929 for good reason. If the FCC can find illegally modified (i.e. high power) CB gear and fine the operators and confiscate the equipment (and they can and do), be assured that they can locate you.</p><p>I would encourage you to get an amateur radio license - there are many interesting ways to experiment with electronics and radio that are completely legal. It is a very enjoyable part of the ham community.</p>
<p>Very helpful article Ethan. Thank you much... Getting back into radio after many years. Just aced the tech test &amp; am looking into remotehamradio.com for station access now - looking forward to first QSO with the new license on hf or 6meters...<br>I was wondering: What do you do if you want to send a QSL card but the person is either not on qrz,com or missing needed info?<br>TNX<br>-Jim</p>
<p>Hi FireMouseHQ,</p><p>To my knowledge, as long as you have a QRZ.com account, you can access mailing information for any ham so long as you have their callsign. I have not had any experience with someone having missing info in regards to their mailing address, and am not sure myself what to do if you want to send a QSL card to a person with a lack of necessary mailing information.</p><p>73,</p><p>Ethan</p>
Im 12 and ive been looking to buy a ham radio. my grandpa has one, thank you for this article
This looks really cool, i think my grandpa probably has some equipment I could use for this, he has a big old antenna which we used with an old shortwave radio of his, and we got stations all the way from china from a copper wire strung up his roof as an antenna.<br> And would it be possible to DIY a morse code tapper easily? looks pretty simple, will have to search this site and see.<br> <br> I might try to learn the morse code by making and arduino morse code trainer like in this instructable<br> <a href="http://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-Morse-Code-Shield/" rel="nofollow">http://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-Morse-Code-Shield/</a><br> <br> and will maybe do a kit to be cheaper on the transiever, if my grandpa doesn't have one.<br> <br> BTW Ethan is an awesome name, its mine too. :)
Thanks for the comment, Ethan! ;-) <br>Yes, it is very simple to make a Morse Code 'tapper' or key, I have seen some people make one with a a few paper clips and a block of wood. <br> <br>Look on YouTube or Google and search &quot;How to make your own Cheap Morse Code Key&quot; and you can find a video of making one with a clothes pin and a few nuts and bolts. <br> <br>Learning Morse Code is a bit of a lost art, but a darn good one still used by tens of thousands of people internationally. My grandfather taught me Morse Code and helped me start. It's not as hard as it seems, and loads of fun. <br> <br>Good luck, and send another comment if you have any questions!
I built a &quot;bug&quot; or speed key way back when, using a Radio Shack plastic training key and a couble of nails as contacts. Got speed up and sounded very musical. Make your stuff. More fun.
This is a great Instructable on Ham Radio! I've been licensed for over 30 years and the hobby is really amazing now. I do encourage folks to go beyond the Tech license as not much is going on on the VHF/UHF bands these days. Also, thanks for talking about CW. Most of my operation has been using CW. There are a ton of resources on the 'net for learning CW. Big tip for CW: DO NOT start at a low speed. Learn the characters at 20 words per minute with 5 wpm spacing. <br>73, <br> <br>LS
A good guide to getting people into amateur radio. I was into it for years and sort of drifted off to do other stuff, but I was given a little handheld VHF / UHF set for xmas. That has sent me delving into the box in the loft to drag out the kit again. <br>A great hobby and you'll make good friends all over the world. <br>73's <br>G7WJJ Roy
Good to see some amateur radio enthusiast here! Good job on the 'ibble. I'm a radio experimenter, mostly designing and building small low power beacons and remote sensing transmitters . I've had my license for 2 years and haven't really talked to anyone yet. The digital modes interest me most. Just Google Hellschreiber and you'll see an interesting old/new technology. 73 KB3VLW
I got hooked on radio when I found a radio shack DX-160 shortwave radio (Which I still have today) in the trash took it home an repaired it the first thing I heard was CB 11 meters an I was hooked I set up a CB base station build my beam antenna got my call letters joined a CB club which had rules rule 1 no handles you had to use your call sign just like the hams a lot of the guys in the club wore hams an in 1995 I got my ham ticket an have not look back I still enjoy 11 meters but it is sad that CB got a bad rap because for a lot of guys it was the first step to becoming a ham radio operator. =^..^= <br> <br>Quinton <br>KF6FDI
A fun read. I've been licensed since 1953 and have always enjoyed it, especially running &quot;phone patch traffic&quot; between Guam and the Marshall Islands and Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha. This is a service hams do free, which enables husbands and wives to stay in contact without phone charges. Back in the '70's, this saved them a lot of money and was a rewarding experience for us, as well. <br>Thanks for reminding me of this fun time from the past... <br>W9NMT <br>
When you say &quot;if you buy one that puts out too many&quot; amps, I think you must be talking about the output voltage, not current capacity. Unless you are dealing with a constant current source (which most power supplies are not), there is no such thing as too many amps. But I understand what you mean, you certainly want the correct voltage and enough current from your supply.
NOTE: I AM NOT A HAM. My experience comes from other areas of electronics. <br> <br>This is what I came here to post. How I think of Amps Vs. Volts is this: <br> <br>&quot;Volts are provided, but Amps are requested.&quot; (This isn't 100% accurate, but it works.) <br> <br>If something says it outputs 13.8v, then that is what it outputs. Nothing can change this (one exception will be noted below) whenever it is turned on. If it says it is a 50A capacity/supply, that means it can reliably output 50A of current, but it is also happy to output 10A, or 18A, or 37.6A or anything below 50A--usually. Sometimes power supplies need a minimum amount of current output otherwise they shut off. The point is that the Amps listed on the power supply is an UPPER limit of the amps provided, but it can provide lower amounts. <br> <br>The one exception I mentioned? If you start drawing too many Amps, some lower quality power supplies will have what is called 'voltage sag' which the volts will drop... But this is NOT a good thing, and you want to avoid it if at all possible. How I do this is that I always 'overbuy' on Amps. if I know that I am never going to need more than 20A then I buy a 30A or 40A if I can find a good deal on one. <br> <br>The only time you wouldn't want to have too many Amps is if you are trying to stay under a certain power (license requirement) or if you are connecting new equipment and you don't know it's draw.
Thank you both for the correction, I failed to proof read my article. <br> <br>-KB1WMR
If you want to learn Morse Code, google &quot;Just Learn Morse Code&quot; for the free software. I already have my license, but I use this to bump up my speed. <br>You did a nice article!
Radio Amateurs of Canada <br>https://www.rac.ca/ <br>Leads to Licensing requirements, Study Guides, Courses, Club contacts; and a world of friendship and enjoyment ,
73 in Telegraphy and Morse Code Shortform <br> <br>http://www.signalharbor.com/73.html <br> <br>http://www.kent-engineers.com/abbreviations.htm <br> <br> <br> <br>In popular culture <br>(from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/73_%28number%29 ). <br> <br>Dr. Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, played by actor Jim Parsons, in Season <br> <br>4 Episode 10 The Alien Parasite Hypothesis states &quot;The best number is 73. Why? 73 <br> <br>is the 21st prime number. Its mirror (37) is the 12th and its mirror (21) is the <br> <br>product of multiplying 7 and 3. ... In binary, 73 is a palindrome, 1001001 which <br> <br>backwards is 1001001.&quot; This episode is the 73rd episode in the entire Big Bang <br> <br>Theory series. <br> <br>Sheldon's roommate, Leonard Hofstadter, then quips that &quot;73 is the Chuck Norris <br> <br>of numbers,&quot; to which Sheldon replies &quot;Chuck Norris wishes. [...] All Chuck <br> <br>Norris backwards gets you is Sirron Kcuhc!&quot;[1] <br> <br>Sheldon's devotion to the number is illustrated in several further episodes, when <br> <br>he wears a t-shirt emblazoned with it, for example in The Roommate <br> <br>Transmogrification.

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Bio: I live in Massachusetts and I enjoy flying airplanes and gliders. When I'm not flying, I'm building things! I particularly enjoy soldering and ... More »
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