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What is ham radio?

At its core, ham radio (officially called amateur radio) is the licensed use of radio equipment for private recreation, experimentation, self-training, practice, emergency communications, or any other non-commercial use. In the United States the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the Amateur Radio service and issues licenses to allow "hams" to work the airwaves.

The word amateur is defined as a person who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession. This definition is especially true for all of us in the ham radio.

Who are these hams?

Ham radio operators come from all walks of life. They are doctors, lawyers, CEOs, kings, politicians, farmers or store clerks. They are male or female, young students or retired grandparents.

Thousands of new people from different walks of life are attracted to ham radio each year and all are proud to be hams.

The origin of the word "ham" is a matter of significant debate; there are many theories, but you can read up on it and judge for yourself.

What can I do with a ham radio?

  • Local operation with FM repeaters
  • Long distance (around the world) operation with HF
  • "Chat" with text over the radio with digital modes like RTTY, PSK31, etc
  • Network computers over the radio with Packet
  • Send video over the radio with ATV (Amateur Television)
  • Design and build antennas
  • Emergency Communications
  • Contesting
  • Push the limits of low power (QRP) operation

Many ham radio operators volunteer their time and use ham radio primarily for local public service events such as races, parades, city festivals, etc. Skills learned helping with such things are useful in emergencies when regular local communications such as home telephones and cell phones are not available due to disasters such as terrorism, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.

Some hams like to communicate across the country or the other side of the globe. There are some that like to use satellites or bounce their signal off of the moon and others have even spoken with astronauts on the International Space Station.

Ham radio will begin new friendships for you either through an amateur radio club that may be located in your town or over the air.

Remember: When the telephone lines are down the hams are up!

See also Why use ham radio?

For more information

This question has been answered many times by many different people. Here are a few other sources you can read for more information: