Ballpark Estimate: $200 to $2,000
Looking for a new hobby that uses cutting edge technology; a hobby that can be fun, rewarding, and challenging, all at the same time? Join the world of Ham radio, where people with the same interest in communications, in many countries, and of all ages and backgrounds, are waiting to say hello and to talk with you about their interests, their families, their culture, and their friendships.
The world-wide fascination in amateur radio has grown enormously ever since the cold, wintry day of December 23, 1900. On that day, Canadian-born Reginald Fessenden, working with a crude radio-transmitter prototype on Roanoke Island, N.C., called out to his assistant stationed fifty miles away. “Hello! Test, 1, 2, 3, 4. Is it snowing where you are Mr. Thiessen?” With these words, the very first spoken over the airwaves, a new chapter in telecommunications history was opened.
Today, amateur radio operators in the United States, popularly known as “Hams”, are always ready to accept new converts into their organization. (The origin of the term Ham in this context is unclear but some refer to the early connotations of the word as slang for someone who is a poor operator or incompetent.) There are local radio clubs that will assist members and organizations such as the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) where members can obtain a myriad of technical information as well as its monthly magazine. For those interested in becoming a Ham radio operator, there are several steps one must go through first, all of which have costs such as:
- Cost of study material for passing the FCC exam
- Cost of the FCC exam
- Cost for the radio equipment
First of all, to transmit over the airwaves an operator must have a license issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). An unlicensed operator can only listen in on his or her receiver – not transmit. The FCC issues licenses in three different classes, each authorizing varying levels of privileges based on the degree of skill and knowledge for operating a Ham radio station. They are the Technician Class, the General Class, and the Amateur Extra Class. Most new amateur operators begin at the Technician Class and then advance up to the other classes. In the Technician Class, the license holder can basically transmit on channels in any of the 17 amateur short wave frequency bands above 30 MHz, and on some High Frequency bands. The holder of a General Class license can operate in all 27 amateur bands and most High Frequency bands, and the privilege of an Amateur Extra license is the use of all the High Frequency bands.
Since the FCC exam will test your knowledge of basic electronic principles, a certain degree of electronic training is necessary in order to pass the exam. In the case of the Technician Class, the test is composed of 35 multiple choice questions with a passing score of 26. To help you prepare for the FCC test there are home-study manuals available on the internet, electronic hobby outlets, or at a public library. The “Bible” for preparing for your license is the “ARRL Ham Radio License Manual” which is specifically designed with the Technician Class FCC test in mind. It covers such topics as Radio and Electronics Fundamentals, Operating Station Equipment, Communicating with other Hams, Licensing and Operating Regulations, Radio Safety, and finally the entire “Technical Question Pool” to make sure you’re ready at exam time. As for learning Morse code, this requirement was discontinued by the FCC effective February of 2007.
The FCC test is administered by an FCC accredited Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC).
Cost for study materials: $25
Once you’re ready to take the plunge for your license, an application can be downloaded (FCC Form 605 with Schedule D), filled out and brought to the nearest testing location. These exams occur in most metropolitan areas across the country and are held only at pre-announced times and locations. These locations are usually in public buildings such as libraries, federal office buildings, etc. The VEC will charge an exam fee at each session where you take the exam to cover their costs of administering the exams.
Cost of the FCC exam: $15
Once you have passed the FCC test and your license, including your unique callsign, is in your hand, the best thing to do is to find a local club to join. At these clubs, other members can provide all the information you need for purchasing radio equipment and for setting up your home radio shack. Ordinarily, this equipment can be bought new from commercial electronic hobby shops or from on-line outlets, used from club members, from on-line auctions or sales, or simply borrowed.
Although there’s no right answer for everyone, most beginners start with a 2-meter hand-held transceiver that sells for $150 to $500. On the other hand, a table-top multi-band transceiver which requires a separate antenna cost at least $500 up to $2,000 or more depending on the amount of auxiliary equipment you want to buy.
Cost for the radio equipment: $150 to $2,000+
If you’re considering joining the world of Ham radio, keep in mind that many amateur radio operators are truly unsung heroes. On many occasions they have contributed their skills in the service of the community with little fanfare. In cases of emergencies and disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, forest fires, and hurricanes, Ham radio operators have frequently played a significant role in assisting families locate loved ones and assisting local authorities in their recovery efforts. It’s not only a great hobby but also a great service to your fellow citizens.