What is Amateur Radio?

What is Amateur Radio?

If you were to ask a dozen different amateurs what ham radio meant to them chances are you would get 12 different answers. Radio amateurs have discovered a richly rewarding high-tech hobby that has many different appeals to different people. Whether it is the ability to talk to local friends over the radio waves using a hand-held transceiver (HT), communicating digitally with packet radio to exchange personal messages or vital information in an emergency, talking to other hams anywhere in the world, or engaging in contests with other Radio Amateurs over the airwaves there is something for everyone. The section What Hams Do gets into more detail about these activities.
Amateurs or Hams?

Amateurs are often affectionately called hams or ham radio operators and frequently the public is more familiar with this term than with the legal term Radio Amateur. The source of the name ham is not known but it has been around almost from the beginning of amateur radio radio in the early 1900s. The name amateur has nothing to do with skill or knowledge but rather implies that ham radio cannot be used for commercial or revenue generating purposes. It is truly a hobby but often one that makes a difference especially in emergency or disaster situations.

Modes of Communication

Amateur radio operators generally use radio transmitters and receivers to communicate with each other.

As you will discover in these pages there are many forms of communication although voice (also known as phone) is still the most widely used. Some of the other forms of transmission are Radioteletype (Rtty), Morse code (CW), television, and digital modes such as Packet, Pactor and PSK-31. A recent survey shows that phone is the most widely used with CW standing second.

Getting Licensed

To become a radio amateur you will need to get a license. Licensing requirements are different in every country with different rules, privileges, and classes of license. The section How to Become a Radio Amateur gives some direction on this from the Canadian and U.S. perspective. Basically different levels of license gives different privileges on the ham bands. The more challenging the license requirements the more privileges that are granted and the more interesting and enjoyable ham radio becomes.

How to Become a Radio Amateur

To become a radio amateur requires a license authorized by the appropriate governing body in your country. On this page we will look briefly at licensing in the U.S. and Canada and point you to web sites that contain more licensing information.

In Canada and the U.S. you will need to prepare for and take an examination to get your license. The exam material depends on the license level or class that you are applying for. For most budding hams it is a good idea to connect with a local Amateur Radio Club (ARC) where classes are given in theory and/or Morse code as needed to prepare you for the exam. Although you can get the study material to learn on your own it is generally much easier and faster to take a course. In the process you will meet other hams or hams to be and begin creating your own network of contacts.

Getting Licensed in Canada

Licensing of Amateur Radio in Canada is regulated by Industry Canada. It is illegal to operate on the amateur bands without an Amateur Radio Operator Certificate which has three levels of qualification as follows:

Basic Qualification: an examination of 100 questions.
access all amateur bands above 30 MHz
use a maximum of 250 watts DC transmitter input power
build and operate all station equipment, except for "home-made" transmitters
Basic with honours (80% or above score) - access to all amateur bands below 30 MHz
There is no Morse code requirement on this test.

Advanced Qualification: an examination of 50 questions.
access all amateur bands below 30 MHz
use maximum transmitter power of 1000 watts DC input
build and operate transmitting equipment
establish repeaters and club stations
remotely control fixed stations, including the use of radio links
There is no Morse code requirement on this test.

Morse Code (5 wpm with Basic or Basic and Advanced Certificate):
access to all amateur bands below 30 MHz

See the section Amateur Radio Bands for more information on band allocation.

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