This site, like so many other amateur sites available, strives to be a source of relevant and current information for amateur radio operators. Where I will try to be different is keeping the site current and up to date with useful information for both new and experienced operators. If you find any information or resources on this site that are inaccurate, please feel free to contact me so I can correct them, your assistance is greatly appreciated.
Keep in mind that any location based information on this site is relative to my location in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area in Minnesota. Some information will vary based on location.
What is Amateur Radio?
Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, is thousands of hobbies in one. You or someone you know might know someone who was a ham, and there are some stereotypical ideas of what amateur radio is, and some of them are even true. Of course there is the standard voice communication, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Many people immediately think of emergency communications, which is also part of the hobby, but it isn't something you are required to do if it doesn't interest you. Electronics and experimentation are another major area of the hobby, but again, if that doesn't interest you that is quite alright. Software defined radio, or SDR, has seen a major increase in interest in recent years, and is one of the things that interest me about the hobby. With SDR many of the traditional hardware components of the radio are replaced with software. This means that you can alter the characteristics and capabilities of the radio with code. This opens up a vast number of possibilities only limited by your imagination. Amateur radio is alive and well and full of possibilities.
Getting Started with Amateur Radio
Study for the exam
In the US, there are three license levels. The first is Technician, followed by General, and then Amateur Extra. Each successive level gives you more privileges. The Technician is the most restrictive, limited to UHF/VHF and some HF, such as the 10 meter band. The General is a great addition, granting large portions of all HF bands. The Amateur Extra doesn't seem to add much in the way of band privileges, but what is does add are very desirable sections of the spectrum.
There are several ways to study for the exam. I would recommend a combination of a study guide and using online resources. There are two exam guides to choose from, and both are excellent. The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual 3rd Edition and the supplemental information the ARRL has online is one choice. Another good choice is the Gordon West 2014-2018 Technician Class Book. These two books alone would be enough to pass the exam, but I would also recommend two online resources. HamStudy will allow you to study the entire question pool, as well as take practice exams to measure your progress. If you are willing to spend a little extra money, HamTestOnline is also a great resource.
I would also encourage you to visit your local amateur club or retail store. They can also help get you started with the amateur radio hobby. In my area there are many active clubs, which you can check out on the clubs link on the left. Radio City Inc. also sells a Ham Starter Kit which includes everything you need to get started.
It is possible to take all three exams in one sitting, assuming of course that you pass the previous one. There are two organizations that offer exam sessions, the ARRL and Laurel VEC. To find exams in your area, visit the ARRL or Laurel VEC website.
Get on the Air!
Once you pass your exam, the real game of patience begins, waiting for your call sign to appear in the FCC ULS. I you are like me, you will likely visit the page every few hours to see if it has shown up. Realistically, you will be waiting for up to one week. While you are waiting, this would be a good time to start researching your first radio, assuming you haven't already purchased one. Again, a visit to your local amateur radio club or retail store will be a great source of information. Once you have your radio, start listening. Pay particular attention to how other stations are communicating. For example, on a repeater is it common for you to announce your presence by saying something similar to "this is KE0LMX, listening", and then waiting for a reply. I would suggest something more engaging, such as "this is KE0LMX, I just got my license and I'm looking for my first contact". You will find that people are more likely to respond if you have something interesting that catches their attention. When to do get a reply, congratulation, you just made your first contact! Now the real fun and learning begins, you will find that you never stop learning. If you didn't take all three exams right away, start studying for your next exam. I hope you enjoy the amateur radio hobby as much as I do.