My SIMPLE Quest for a HAM Radio License


See also:  Why HAM Radio?
                 Beginner HAM Radio Selection Thoughts
                 Local Area HAM Radio Testing

Here are my personal reasons for wanting a HAM license:

  1. If a large scale emergency situation occurs, HAM radio frequencies will be FULL of useful information.
  2. Also, the range of HAM radio far exceeds that of any CB.  Hand helds and base stations alike.
  3. Finally, when other electrical or communication systems go down, HAM will be UP.

Ask anyone -- I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed.  Not the most dull, but not the sharpest.  You CAN do this.

First step.  If you have a smart phone, do a search for "free tech HAM license study".  There are lots of apps which both free and very useful for familiarizing yourself with the questions you will be asked on the 35 question exam you'll eventually need to take.

"Under what circumstances is it safe to climb a tower without a helper or observer?"
A. When no electrical work is being performed
B. When no mechanical work is being performed
C. When the work being done is not more than 20 feet above the ground
D. Never

Can you guess what the answer might be??  The FCC and any group with liability worries (which is pretty much everyone these days in our sue-happy society) is always going to lean towards being Saftey Sallys.  The answer is D.

See, you have 1 out of 35 right already!

I found myself using about 3 different apps.  Most apps follow the same basic format.  They will randomly draw from the pool of 400 or so questions that can be on the test, feeding you multiple choice answers.  At the end of the 35 questions, the app will tell you what score you got.  To pass your "tech" exam (which is the entry level license), you can miss 9 questions and still pass.

The best apps are the ones which tell you what the RIGHT answer was for the questions you missed.

If you don't have a smart phone, try using this desktop site:  http://www.eham.net/exams/

I took the practice tests for about a month.  Sometimes I would take them 3 times a day, sometimes none, but I did consistently force myself to take the tests regularly.  You do have to do a little work guys, but hey anything you don't have to work for....right?  My radio and science background consists of tinkering and playing around.  Eventually I found myself creeping towards that 75% passing grade level.  Some questions I memorized, others I wanted to know WHY the answer was what it was.


Second Step.  When I was consistently scoring 80% or higher on the practice exams, I felt ready to give the real test a shot.  I discovered the Huber Heights Amateur Radio Club and contacted them about available exam dates.  There are many places to take your exam, but I wanted to meet some local operators and support their club with a $10 donation for offering the exam.

About 8 people showed up for exams.  Most were taking the technician (entry level) license, but a few were taking other higher level exams.  Personally I will be happy with technician for a while yet. . .there are lots of us.  You can take HAM as far as you want, though, talking to the International Space Station or to people in countries around the world.

I missed 7 questions on my exam.  I was hoping to only miss 5, but hey, I passed.

Remember, if you study the free practice exams which draw on the full, current pool of questions you will not be surprised by much on the paper exam.  There was a question or two that I had not seen, but most were very familiar to me.  My advice is that if you can score 80% on the practice exams with any regularity you will probably pass the paper licensure exam.


Third Step.  OK, let's say I get my license.  A radio will cost me a fortune.  Not true.  For beginners, for the person who is not sure they are going to like it, or for the casual user -- very much like myself -- I recommend going with a Baofeng UV-5R hand held radio.  They can be had for $30 to $40.  NEW.  Add it up.  License exam + radio = Under $50.

We've all seen small CB type radios claiming "20 mile range", which they never live up to, right?  From a hand held radio using HAM frequencies, you can expect a direct radio to radio reach of 3 to 5 miles over most terrains.  This may not sound like a lot, but for person to person reliable radio communication that is pretty good.

That said, I have talked to my cousin who lives 45 miles away using my little hand held.  Some radio clubs operate what are called "repeater towers".  A repeater basically is a signal booster which anyone with a radio can access.  With my small, inexpensive Baofeng, I can tune to the repeater frequency, my cousin does the same, and we can talk over great distances using the power of a centrally located repeater tower.  You can search online for maps which list repeater locations and frequencies.

When you speak through a repeater, your conversation is not private at all, but it gets the job done and usually there is very little "traffic" on the repeater channel.  If you want private conversations, or to reach out to people hundreds and thousands of miles away, that is when you start to get into the more expensive base station radios.  Still, you can get into these base stations for $300 to $800 for a basic set up.


In Closing.  HAM radio was started as a system of civil defense in order to "backup" communications for military and defense purposes.  The network that has become HAM radio of today has fantastic utility still for domestic communications during an emergency not only for governmental services, but also for the public at large.

When the cell phone towers go down, or the power goes out, HAM radio will be alive.  Most HAM operators have 12 volt car battery back up battery power, or generators.  The repeater towers I mentioned all have generators.  HAM is still a great resource for meeting like minded people, making friends, emergency mitigation, information sharing, and emergency PREPAREDNESS.

I hope you will start looking into getting your technician license today and acheive it in short order.  You CAN do it.

Thanks for reading...
Matt Jones

P.S. -- Here's a link to the national organization of HAM operators:
http://www.arrl.org/getting-your-technician-license