Ham radio is a great hobby with lots of different opportunities. But if you're not a ham already, how do you get started? What do you need to do and how do you go about it?
Getting a License
In order to transmit, you have to get a ham radio license.
The first license is the "Technician" license, and roughly half the hams in the United States stop there. The Technician license gives you full transmit privileges on VHF and UHF for relatively short distance communication. It also provides some limited privileges on HF (longer distances).
In order to pass the Technician license exam, you will need to complete a license exam and answer at least 26 of 35 multiple-choice questions correctly. These questions are chosen from a pool of roughly 400 questions. You do not need a radio to get a license. You do not need to know Morse code to get a license.
Many people get their license just by studying one or both of these two books:
The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual
Gordon West's Technician Class 2010-2014
Most of the local libraries have copies of at least one of these books, so you might not have to buy them if you don't want to.
The pool of questions for technician class license is available for free download. Some people choose to study just the questions in the question pool. In general, you'll get more useful information if you read some of the theory behind the questions rather than just memorizing them. But the question pool can be a useful resource:
Amateur Radio Question Pools
Note that the question pools change every 4 years - so if you buy a technician class book, you'll want to get your license before the questions are changed in July 2014 (and again in July 2018). Once you have your license, you don't need to re-test with the new questions.
A number of organizations offer classes to help you get your technician license. Many people find that a class will give them structure and help them overcome difficulties when they run into roadblocks along the way.
There are typically two kinds of classes: a weekend "cram session" and a more leisurely class held one day a week for 5-8 weeks or so. The longer classes expose you to more information and background, so you tend to learn more in them.
Sometimes TBARC or someone in TBARC will offer classes; you can find out about that here
The Arizona Science Center
also offers classes.
The ARRL has a searchable list of some classes
, but not every class is published there.
You can sometimes get information on upcoming classes at Ham Radio Outlet
Ham radio has a long tradition of encouraging and helping people increase their skills. A person who is willing to help others is called an "Elmer", and many ham radio operators take pride in being an Elmer. If you know someone who has a ham radio license, ask them if they're willing to give you a hand. Chances are good you'll get a personal trainer who can explain things for you better than any book or class.
Take Practice Tests
Regardless of whether you choose to take a class or to study at home, you should take frequent practice tests to see how you're doing. A number of sites will let you do this online for free.
Two that are popular are AA9PW
(no registration required) and QRZ.COM
Take the Exam
Once you're consistently passing the practice exams with scores of 30 and above, then think about taking a license exam. Most courses end with a test session, and many of those are open to the general public as well. Many hamfests will offer testing.
Here's a place to search for test sessions near you
A week or so before you take the exam, register with the FCC to get your FCC Registration Number (FRN)
. You will need to bring that number to the exam to fill out a form. Exam sessions also require a fee (usually around $15) and picture ID. Be sure to bring that.
Some exam sessions require pre-registration; others are drop-in.
Once you pass the exam, you will need to wait for the FCC to issue your callsign before you can transmit.
More Information about Ham Radio
Even before getting your license, why not attend a club general meeting
? This will let you know if ham radio is something you want to pursue. There are lots of different things you can do with ham radio; find out what people are excited about.
Most clubs (including TBARC) will not charge you anything to show up for a meeting or two to see if you'd like to become a member. It makes sense to visit a few different clubs to see if they're the kind of club you want to join.
Learn as much as you can before you lay out money for a transmitter. The radio you choose might depend on what you want to do in the hobby. A typical entry-level transmitter costs around $125. As you add features, the prices go up. Many club members will happily show you their radio and explain its relative merits.
There are many public meetings on-air (called "nets"). You can listen to them even without a license if you have a radio scanner. Some also stream on the Internet. One very helpful one in Maricopa County is the Arizona Emergency Net - Maricopa at 147.240 MHz on Monday nights at 9:00 pm. It focuses on public service and disaster issues, but also has general information about using radios. Sometimes you can hear it streaming online at: