Introduction: How to Talk to Someone Using Ham Radio

About: 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 electronics kits, radio controlled boats and aircraft, FPV flying,…

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:

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

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

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: , ,

Literature (Books and Online Literature): ,

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: .

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...

Step 2: Equipment

Already have the proper equipment? Skip this step! 

What equipment do I need? Unfortunately, there is no 'one big machine' that will do it all. There are a few items you will need, but, don't let this deter you, it is actually much easier than it seems, especially when it is put in a list for you like this one! You will need:

-A Transceiver
-A Power Supply 
-An Antenna 
-An Antenna Tuner 
-Microphone or Key 

That is the basic equipment you need to make a QSO. There are many retailers that sell this, and beware of some places like Radio Shack! They overprice cheap items that you could otherwise get for a cheap price. 

Transceiver: A transceiver is a combination of a receiver and a transmitter. They are a better option than getting a separate transmitter and receiver, especially if you are inexperienced. Depending on frequency range and power output, they can cost from a range from $100-$10,000! However, you can get a good quality one for around $200-$600. Fortunately, they are probably the mot expensive item you will get, and pretty much all of the other items are way below $100. Some trusted brands are Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood. However, there are much more. To combine shipping and decrease the cost, you can get just about everything from Ham Radio Outlet ( You could also opt for building a kit. However, the kits usually only produce less than 5 watts, but they are extremely fun as long as you like to solder. However, if you are operating VHF (Very High Frequency) which is most commonly thought of as talking to people using repeaters, then you may only need a small mobile handheld transceiver that has all of the listed components listed above. A local ham gave me a VHF repeater for free when I first started (like I said, older hams really like helping out new hams), but most people can get them for around $70-$200. 

Power Supply: A power supply is what powers the transceiver. Most power supplies cost less than $100. But be careful, you have to make sure they are compatible with your transceiver. If you buy one that puts out too little volts, your transceiver will be greatly under-powered and may not turn off, but if you buy one that puts out too many, you could blow your fuse, or seriously damage your radio. Remember: If you aren't sure, CONSULT AN EXPERIENCED HAM! If you sent me a message, I would be more than happy to help. 

Antenna: If you find the right one and use it right, you can get a good quality antenna for $30. However, you can also get a good quality antenna for $300. I, myself have a $30 antenna and have made a QSO with countries like Argentina and Germany. When you think of an "antenna", you probably think of a metal tower. Those antennas are called vertical antennas, but are not the only option. There are yagi's, dipoles, and many more. A good antenna that you could string off the side of your house is a G5RV: . They work just as well as a vertical antenna, and can sometimes be a huge money saver. Always remember, Check with your town zoning laws before putting up an antenna. Often times your town may have restrictions on the type of antennas you can put up. 

Antenna Tuner: This one is a bit complicated. Basically, you need this "tuner" to be able to, in plain words, "match" your transceiver to your antenna. If you have them mismatched, a lot of the power you transmit on your transceiver could end up severely damaging your transceiver or blow a fuse. There are two types of tuners: an auto tuner and a manual tuner. A decent manual tuner can be found here: and auto tuners can vary depending on brand and other factors. A manual tuner is recommended for inexperienced hams. For the sake of cutting down on a bunch of words, you can learn how to use it by going here: . 

Microphone or Key: This will be how you communicate. Depending on the mode you use, you need a key to send Morse code, and a microphone to send SSB (voice). Many transceivers have different microphone jacks, but fortunately, many transceivers come with a compatible microphone. Morse code keys usually don't however. And there are many different types such as a straight key or bug. Since you are probably a inexperienced ham, you might want a straight key as it is more simplistic. Most Morse code keys have two different jacks. If you have a key you want to buy, email the seller or talk to him in person about which you should get. 

Extra Cables: You will need extra cables usually around 1-5 feet long to connect all of your equipment together. CONSULT WITH A HAM OR YOUR RETAILER FOR INFORMATION ON WHICH ONES! Usually, you will only need one type.

Remember! Never let yourself become frustrated or deterred because there is so much you may not know. Just email the seller/retailer, send ME a message, or talk to your local ham radio club, because they all will be more than happy to help you learn to be a ham. It is quite simple once you understand everything, and surprisingly, there isn't a whole load you will have to know. Just the basic skills. 

Now, you're ready for your QSO...

Step 3: The QSO

Now it's time...

Turn on your radio and find an open frequency. Using the antenna tuner, tune your antenna to as close as 1:1 as possible. Check again to see if the frequency is not being used by someone. Just because you can't hear them, certainly doesn't mean they can't hear you. If you aren't sure, send "QRL" which means "Is this frequency in use?". If you're on voice, just say "This is [Your Callsign], is this frequency busy?". Ask twice. Get a response? Then move to another frequency. If you still hear nothing, then you're on!

On CW, you make a call to anyone on the ham band by sending the letters "CQ" as one word. To try to talk to someone, you must send "CQ" and hopefully another ham will hear your CQ and answer it. Don't be surprised if you don't get an answer. Try for about 3-4 minutes before changing frequencies.

How exactly do I send CQ in morse code? A normal CQ call would go as follows: "CQ CQ CQ DE [Your callsign] [Your callsign] K". The "K" means "Back to you". In this case, "you" is anyone who is listening. "DE" means "This is". And obviously, "your callsign" is the person sending CQ. In this case, that'd be YOU. Always send it twice in case the person trying to copy you didn't hear it quite right. If you are on phone, you want to use phonetics when saying your callsign so they can tell a D between a B and so on. A CQ on phone would go like this: "Hello CQ CQ CQ this is KB1WMR. Kilo Bravo One Whiskey Mike Romeo. KB1WMR calling CQ 20 meters. Hello CQ CQ CQ this is KB1WMR. Kilo Bravo One Whiskey Mike Romeo. KB1WMR calling CQ 20 meters and standing by for a call." Remember, don't say it too fast or too slow. You want to speak clear and slow enough they can copy what your saying, but not so slow they lose interest.

Someone just answered me! What do I do now!? Stay calm, this is usually when you get a, what I like to say, "brain fart". Your brain freezes and you can't think of what to say. What I did was print out a template for what I should say and ask him so if I ever forgot what to say, I'd just look on the template and remember. Don't make the template to extensive or you will get confused. Make it short and simple so you can say "Oh right! I remember now!"

What should be on the template: In this "normal response", your callsign will be KB1WMR, and the person you're talking to will be K1AUB. The normal response in CW goes like this: K1AUB DE KB1WMR FB FER CALL BT UR RST 599 599 BT NAME ETHAN ETHAN BT QTH NEAR BOSTON, MA NEAR BOSTON, MA BT HW CPY? K1AUB DE KB1WMR K. The normal response goes like that. After he says his information, you can usually proceed to tell him about your radios and antenna and the power your putting out, your age, etc. Just have fun. Ask him how the weather is. In CW, you say weather as "WX". But DEFINITELY, tell him you just got licensed or that he is your first QSO, because he will be ecstatic and more understanding if you are sending code nervously. Just make conversation.

I want to say goodbye, how do I do that? There is a certain way of saying goodbye. Here are a few words that you can say:

73- Goodbye
88- With Love
SK- Signed off (last thing you send)
GL- Good Luck
CU- See you
AGN- Again
HPE- Hope
GM- Good Morning
GA- Good Afternoon
GD- Good day
PSE- Please
HNY- Happy New Year
UR- Your or you're
FB- Fine Business
OM- Old Man
YL- Young Lady or any woman who is unmarried.

(These are some of the most used terms and are internationally recognized by hams).

Sometimes, you just don't want to talk to the person anymore. You usually just don't say "I don't want to talk to you anymore", but be more kind and say something like "Have to walk dog now" or "Wife just called for dinner". By the way, XYL is Wife.

If you are using phone (voice), you basically say the same thing, except don't say things like GL, because you can afford the time and say Good Luck. However, you do typically say "73".

Great! I finished my QSO! I'm done right? Not always... most people log their contacts and even said a "QSL card" to the person they made a contact with (traditionally by mail). It can be sent using online logging websites and by mail. By mail, you get a card by them, and many people such as myself enjoy collecting them. Click next to see how to get and send one...

Still a bit unsure on what to do? Look here:

Step 4: Send a QSL Card

You've just finished your QSO. You're glad you finished talking, but even more glad you did it! So what now? Now, you log your contact. 

How do I log my contact? You can log your contact in two different ways, or both! By logging it online, or by logging it in a booklet. Both work. Some online logging websites are and 

After you finished logging, you fill out a QSL card and send it to the person you made a contact with. If you do it by mail, you must get his home address. You can find it by going to and creating an account, then searching his callsign. If you do it online, simply fill out the QSO information, click save, and your done! This way you can save the memories and details about your QSO forever. 

Thank you very much for reading this how-to make a QSO, and I hope I help as many people as I can with it. Don't be afraid to send me a message if you have questions. 

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