Getting Started With Ham Radio

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Introduction: Getting Started With Ham Radio

About: Making and sharing are my two biggest passions! In total I've published hundreds of tutorials about everything from microcontrollers to knitting. I'm a New York City motorcyclist and unrepentant dog mom. My wo…

As a recently minted ham licensee, I want to pass along the process I took to get into ham radio. I was enticed by the self-reliance aspect of the hobby, giving folks a way to communicate when other methods are disrupted. But it's also rewarding to apply real science and get to meet actual humans in the process. I hope this guide helps you if you are interested in getting started in ham! And if you have more advice for beginners, please leave it in the comments below.

Supplies:

As my collection of ham goodies grows, I'm adding them to my Amazon list all about ham radio. So far here are the things that got me started:

To keep up with what I'm working on, follow me on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and subscribe to my newsletter. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases you make using my affiliate links.

Step 1: Study

Pick up the spiral-bound Technician Class manual, and its corresponding question book, and begin reading.

Since I’m already familiar with basic electronics, some of the concepts were easy to grasp. Other topics were completely new to me, like ham etiquette and the laws and regulations of radio. Wave behaviors stood out as particularly fun and novel to me– and I found an awesome old AT&T video about wave behaviors that helps illuminate the subject beautifully (embedded above).

Take practice tests online, which will help prep you for the balance of questions offered, since they are categorized and you'll only receive a certain number of questions from each category in your exam. For some of the harder questions, it will help to study the material but also to practice the specific questions that trip you up.

Step 2: Get a Radio and Listen In

I picked up a portable radio that I’ve seen commonly recommended as a first radio: it’s a BaoFeng UV-5R (3rd generation) (with upgraded antenna). I looked up the times and frequencies of some nets in my local area and tuned my radio to listen in. I found it helpful to pick up a programming cable, so I could program my local repeaters and stations into my radio’s memory. Listening to traffic nets made for a great backdrop for study sessions, as it provided motivation. To check in myself, I'd have to pass my test first!

Step 3: Take the License Exam

One important thing to know about filing for a license: the address you use to apply will be published in the FCC database, so use a PO box if you don’t want to make your home address public.

Use the ARRL website to locate a ham exam session in your local area.

I took the exam in Brooklyn, in the conference room of a hospital admin building. Five proctors lead the exams, which they scored using templates made from punched out pieces of plastic. I sat next to a pre-teen boy taking a more advanced level test.

I paid a $15 fee in cash and a proctor checked my ID and checked that my calculator was cleared if it was capable of being programmed (no smartphone calculators are allowed). The certificate form was an old-school carbon copy document with three layers. I filled out another form and also the info box on my answer sheet. Scrap paper for calculations was offered to us, but I had brought my own like the website instructed me to. A proctor distributed the test booklets and asked us not to write on them. We recorded our answers on the answer sheet, coloring in pencil to cover up the letter corresponding to the selected answer.

I passed the test! My call sign is KD2SSU. If you pass, you receive the opportunity to take the next level exam right away. I didn’t pass, but hey, I didn’t study or pay extra, either. But now I’ve got the General class manual and am studying for the next level exam myself, which will unlock some HF bands.

Step 4: Socialize

I talked about my studies on Twitter and Instagram, and found an outpouring of friendly support, call signs, and 73s. I was surprised how many of my friends have their licenses, so maybe you will be too!

So far, from my house, I can only communicate with my closest repeater if I go outside on the roof. So I’m already making plans to put an antenna up there and run the cable inside, so I can make better use of my license in less than ideal weather. I recommend checking in to a local net to practice using your new call sign.

Step 5: Learn More

If you’re already a ham, please let me know your call sign in the comments below!

Here are some other resources that may be useful in your ham learning journey:

Thanks for reading along! If you like this guide, you may be interested in some of my others:

    To keep up with what I'm working on, follow me on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and subscribe to my newsletter.

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    52 Comments

    4
    Ronbo62
    Ronbo62

    3 months ago on Step 5

    Congratulations on your ticket. I come from a family of hams. My dad was an Amateur Extra, and my mom had her Technician ticket. My dad commuted a lot for work so he and my mom would talk while he was driving. I didn't pass my first test in the 1970s as a novice and lost interest as a result. It wasn't until the 1990s before I got the bug again and finally got my Technician ticket. It was great to chat with my parents while I would drive up to see them at their nursing home when I got close to their repeater which increased our visit time. They have both since passed away and I am no longer active, but I keep my license up to date in their honor.

    73s KC9RON

    0
    ve7bul
    ve7bul

    3 months ago

    Congratulations Becky! I've been a ham for many years and it's nice to see that the hobby has not been wiped out by the advent of cellphones as was feared at one time. The hobby appears to be making a resurgence. Just wait until you get the extra class and can build your own repeaters or APRS. There are just about as many activities as you can imagine to occupy your waking moment, and maybe your not awake moments too! In Canada I can hold more than one callsign so ve7bul is only one place you will find me. Check www.aprs.fi/ve7bul-3 for a remote location APRS battery voltage, temperature etc. 73 de Gil.

    0
    JimB74
    JimB74

    3 months ago

    Congratulations Becky ! I have that HT radio as well

    I am in Northeast NJ and finally upgraded to Amateur Extra not that long ago

    I have to admit, although I have the Extra, i am not very experienced. I am reading
    up and hope to get involved with a local club here when all the craziness subsides.
    Since i have been stuck inside i completed the work to be a VE - both to be involved
    in the community and to see if I could do it.

    PS: ARRL has books on Arduino and Amateur radio

    -- Good Luck, enjoy
    James (Jim)
    KD2RJV

    0
    MarkWSchumann
    MarkWSchumann

    7 months ago

    Hi Becky! This is the post I needed to get started, and I'm ready to take my Technician exam in a few days. Thanks!

    Here's my question though: is it normal for the calling frequencies to be REALLY QUIET all the time? I'm listening on 146.520 and it has been 100% silent for the past six hours. I realize Cleveland isn't Brooklyn, but still... where is everyone?

    0
    MarkWSchumann
    MarkWSchumann

    Reply 7 months ago

    Boom. Passed the Technician and the General exams this morning. :-) 👍🏻⚡

    0
    JimB74
    JimB74

    Reply 3 months ago

    Try to find a local club to see what are the frequencies are for repeaters

    0
    sail4sea
    sail4sea

    3 months ago

    I'm working toward my Amateur Extra and then after that, I want to become a VEC (Voluntary Examination Coordinator) myself. I already have my General license. It is really difficult to pass more than one exam in a single setting, although one guy took and passed the Tech, General, and Amateur Extra exams in the same test session which is impressive. I studied and passed one exam at a time.

    My call sign is KE0UNF and I got licence plates for my car with my call sign on it. Mostly I hang out on 2 meter, so I am unlikely to contact anyone unless they are in my local area.

    I mainly use a Baofeng at home, but I have a mobile unit in the car. I even drilled a hole in the roof of my car in order to install an antenna, which was scary, but the place I originally wanted to install the antenna was plastic. It looks really professional though.

    1
    kmpres
    kmpres

    3 months ago

    Congrats, Becky! I got my Tech and General licenses the same day in Nassau County in 2017. I grew up in the Big Apple but now live in Japan. Hope to have a base station set up in a few months. Starting up a Ham Radio Station in a foreign country is a whole different kind of challenge but not impossible once you learn the local rules and procedures. My goal is to DX to New York on 100 watts like my great-grandfather did before I was born. He could reach Europe and Australia from his house in Queens back in the 1920s! Enjoy the hobby and maybe we'll enjoy a QSO together sometime. 73 KD2ORG

    1
    DanB262
    DanB262

    3 months ago

    Welcome to the hobby! Thank you for sharing your experience. This adds to the plethora of content available to the world for Amateur Radio. I do hope you continue your path with your license. This rabbit hole just keeps going. 73 de KD2FMW

    0
    grizgrover1
    grizgrover1

    3 months ago

    This N8PZL, Jim. I am an Amateur Extra ham and a VE team leader. I constantly have to remind the team that this is an exam session and not rag chew session. I am sending a link to your vifdeo to my team.

    0
    chefspenser
    chefspenser

    3 months ago

    Very well don! — • —

    0
    SteveR2
    SteveR2

    3 months ago

    Well done Becky!

    When I got my licence back in 1984, hand-held mobile phones were still science fiction, and the radio amateur's freedom to chat to people all over the world was something exceptional.
    So I was getting worried that young people might no longer be interested in amateur radio, now anyone can talk to anyone, anywhere, on a device they can slip into their pocket and forget about.

    Clearly I was wrong :-D

    Not been as active as I'd like, but recently acquired some shortwave kit so who knows, when you get your full licence we might even have a QSO, though with my 50 W set we'd need to use CW!

    73 de F/G4YXU, Steve. (Originally licenced as DJ0YP. Studying for my licence and learning morse in German was ... entertaining!)

    Steve G4YXU.jpg
    0
    leaping1972
    leaping1972

    3 months ago

    Hi just a callsign post, M0LGL - congratulations of the pass.

    0
    edwred
    edwred

    3 months ago

    Hi!
    Not wanting to offend, but why do you have to take exams and studies to use a certain radio frequency/thing?
    Is this like citizens radio?
    I have a Walkie talkie and I have managed to tune into some people having conversations.

    0
    bekathwia
    bekathwia

    Reply 3 months ago

    The license is required so folks operate safely and without causing issues for others. You can listen to anything without a license, but you aren't supposed to transmit on certain frequencies without one. Here's some more info: http://www.pineapplejuice.net/ham-pine/?page_id=50

    1
    j.p.doherty
    j.p.doherty

    8 months ago

    I've had fleeting thoughts about getting into ham radio since I was a little kid because of a neighbor and his very cool setup, but I didn't realize the process was as straightforward as this. Over this past week, thanks to staying at home, this post, and a bit of RF background from the military, I studied up and passed the Technician exam this morning. Thanks for putting this together!

    1
    TheFireMan
    TheFireMan

    11 months ago

    Congratulations, and welcome to the Ham Radio Community..

    73's from DEEP South Texas...

    ErnestG
    KI5GAL
    Rio Grande Valley, Texas

    0
    liamkennedy
    liamkennedy

    1 year ago

    Hey Becky... been a fan of what you have done in the maker community for many years now... and I got licensed just a few weeks after you did. The ham radio community is a pretty amazing world.

    Thanks for sharing this article about your experience of getting licensed and starting out with ham radio. I have no doubt your experience will inspire many more to become licensed!

    I was inspired to get my license after supporting many ARISS contacts where students get to "interview" an astronaut on the International Space Station. I'm now sending messages via the digipeater on the ISS. I'd love to see you check that out - I predict you would find some interesting ways to apply your maker context to that whole thing!

    73 from Liam KN6EQU

    1
    Aries68
    Aries68

    1 year ago

    I commented on your Youtube video but I will post here also so it can be found.

    If you would like to take the test for free go to "The Laurel VEC" where you can find a local VE team.https://www.laurelvec.com/?pg=teams