Amateur radio operators (hams), because of the extended privileges they have to create and use radios on the air, are required to be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). There are three classes of license:
|Technician||Easy. The course material covers radio basics and safety material. Very simple calculations.||Line of sight communications using relatively inexpensive radios. Good for local communications. Entry-level equipment is approximately $200, although you can spend more.|
|General||Somewhat harder. More detailed radio material, including some straightforward calculations.||Worldwide and local communications. Requires more significant equipment. Entry level equipment is around $1000. Again, you can spend more!|
|Amateur Extra||Quite difficult—at an engineering level.||Same as General, except on additional frequencies. Also permitted to administer examinations.|
Amateur Radio is a hobby as old as radio itself—more than a century! Amateur Radio provides people the ability to communicate with each other either with store-bought equipment, or equipment they make themselves. The hobby has many facets, including simple voice communications, the use of strategically-located mountaintop repeaters, connecting computers to each other over the air for instant messaging, even television, talking to satellites (all the Space Shuttle astronauts are amateur radio operators) and bouncing signals off the moon. And all this can be done with the Technician license!
Becoming an Amateur Radio Operator is like any other skill: it takes study and determination. People of all ages, from 9 to 90, have passed their examination and get on the air. The Technician license is geared especially for non-technical folks, covering enough basic skills to ensure you obey FCC regulations and keep your station safe.
The easiest way to become a ham is to order a self-study manual from the national ham radio organization, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) at www.arrl.org. What you are looking for is The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual, ISBN 0-87259-963-9, ARRL Catalog number 9639, $24.95 plus shipping. Although the manual is available from other sources such as Amazon, by ordering from the ARRL you are assured of having the latest edition. PLEASE NOTE that this manual expires at the end of June, 2010. If you think it will take you longer to prepare than that, make sure you have the newest manual!
Interestingly, every single question that might appear on the examination is listed in the manual along with the correct answer. But there are hundreds of questions, only 35 of which will show up on your exam. The manual guides you through this and provides sample examinations. You may also practice examinations on the Internet at http://www.eham.net/exams/ and other locations. When you are ready, the Montrose Amateur Radio Club holds examination sessions in Cedaredge, and if the number of applicants at the same time is sizeable, the examination team may travel to outlying areas.
After you obtain your license, you will want to obtain equipment. There are many ways of doing this, including looking on eBay, but most new amateurs start with at least one brand new radio, usually a small handheld unit. As you gain experience, you may want to expand your "rig."
The Montrose Amateur Radio Club (MARC), www.montrosearc.org meets every third Friday at the Olathe Community Center at 7:00 p.m. except in December. MARC provides radio communications for several community events, such as the annual Hard Rock Run and the annual Field Day. Participation in these events provides an opportunity to hone your skills and test your equipment. The club makes extensive use of the Cedaredge Repeater. You may also want to investigate joining the ARRL, which provides an excellent monthly magazine, QST.