This guide is going to go through how to get your Ham Radio license (in the United States) and some suggested steps for “going ham” with your new license. First off, the etymology of Ham Radio is that “ham” was a term for radio operators and in the last century the term has really taken off.

How do I get my Ham Radio license?

Step 1: Study for your test. Well, I guess step 0 would be choosing which test to study for. I used hamstudy.org but there are other resources. The best resource is going to be going to a local radio group.

The three levels are:

  • Technician
  • General
  • Amateur Extra

Step 2: Take your test. I recommend doing an online session. My test was with GLAARG and it was conducted over Zoom. They really take anti-cheating seriously, as they should. One thing that’s interesting is that people regularly study for multiple exams. I’ve heard of high schoolers studying for then passing all three tests in one day.

Click here for GLAARG’s FAQ on remote test sessions.

Step 3: Here’s where we go ham.

Buying Ham Radio gear

What you need first is a radio to listen in on what’s going on around you. I chose the often-shat-on but even-more-often-bought Baofeng UV-5R handheld radio and more accessories than I care to admit.

To sum it up… Going (baby) ham:

radio: Baofeng UV-5R

upgraded antenna: Nagoya UT-308UV 144/430Mhz 3.0dB SMA-Female Magnet 56cm Antenna w/5m Cable

radio programming cable: Baofeng programming cable

This gear only lets you listen in and maybe make your first contact if you live close enough or within nice line of sight to a repeater.

Learn the Ham Radio lingo

WRARC has a nice guide on what Ham Radio etiquette looks (sounds) like. Great training is just to listen in on local nets and observe how it’s done.

Listen in on a Noon net

The first time I heard someone else’s voice and not a robot reading a weather report, I felt so very accomplished. When you get to this step, you should too. Basically, you’ll need to

  1. Look up what channels are active in your area.
  2. Use that programming cable to program channels onto your radio.

Check out this guide by QRZ now about adding a channel to your Baofeng. This other guide provides a bit more insight on how to find interesting channels to listen in on.

Discover Broadband-Hamnet

Once you have your Ham Radio license, a whole new world opens to you. Think of your access to the airwaves as a magic carpet beckoning you to ride. This website gives me a look into the past and when I discovered it, I was immediately taken with the mission. I bought many Linksys routers and things like marine goop, weatherproof cases, solar panels, batteries, cable glands, and so much more to try and get involved. Then discover it’s dead. Meshnets are the future – both with or without collapse but software moves on. Consider this a nice museum

Resources: http://www.broadband-hamnet.org/

Making your first contact

First contact is the first time you legally speak with someone over the radio. Here’s where my guide tapers off and I start pointing to resources. The ARRL is The National Association for Amateur Radio. Here’s their guide for making your first contact.

Check out AREDN and RACES

AREDN: Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network. Check out their site to see what they’re all about.

RACES: Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services. These are HAM radio operators that have registered their gear.

Look into SDR (Software Defined Radio)

From DC 2 Daylight has a great guide on starting off with SDR. Check out Ham Project’s Raspberry Pi for Ham Radio guide. It’s crazy what’s out there and I can’t hold a candle to this guide, so do check it out.

Going cold turkey with Ham Radio (the end for now)

Your path into HAM radio is not going to look like mine, but I hope I provided enough rabbit holes to make it interesting.

As with too many things, I go 0 to 100 and then lose interest. There is so much more to this.

If any Elmers have tips for where to go from here to rekindle my interest… Please holler in the comments!

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