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Become a Ham!

If you would like to learn more about what amateur radio operators (hams) do, please feel free to come to any of our meetings to talk with our members. Also, look over the rest of this web site and feel free to  email or telephone one of our club officers with your questions.

Please also look at this 4 minute video that gives a quick overview of amateur radio.  (If it doesn't work, try these addresses: http://p1k.arrl.org/files/Hello-Movie.wmv  or http://p1k.arrl.org/files/HELLO-LONG-PROGRAM.mpg )

Here's another good article about How Ham Radio Works

To officially become a ham, you must obtain an entry-level Technician amateur radio operator's license from the United States F.C.C. (Federal Communications Commission).

To get the Technician license, you must pass a 35 question multiple choice test that deals with basic electronics, good operating practices, and safety. (Morse code proficiency is no longer required any Amateur Radio licenses.)

1. Studying for the Technician Test

To pass the exam, you must correctly answer at least 70% of the 35 multiple choice exam questions (out of a pool of 510 questions).

The 'best' learning method will be different for each person. We recommend that you look over the various options and study aids below.

Many members have used a "self-study" program successfully.  A general recommendation for a self-study approach is to obtain one or more of the books below,  plus find an "Elmer" (an experienced ham) who can help you with your studies by  answering any specific questions you may have or by explaining difficult concepts. If you email us or come to a club meeting, we will find a willing a club member to act as an Elmer.

Here are some recommended study aids:

  • Books:  The books below can be obtained via the internet and perhaps at hamfests (periodic ham flea markets) and some local retail electronics stores (including some Radio Shacks -- telephone first). In addition, perhaps club members have some used, current edition books they can loan or give you -- come to a meeting and ask! (The books listed below are hyperlinked to an internet purchase site for your convenience, but you can do a web search to perhaps find other sites with a better price or delivery time.) 

  • CDs Cassettes:

  • Video Tape: The ARRL has created a video tape study course that does a great job of preparing you for your exam. but the course is fairly expensive ($149). The video instructors and graphics help you better understand the technical aspects of radio theory and operation. It comes with a course book and practice exam questions. If some club is offering an exam course (see below) they may use this video as a training device (saves you the cost of buying it).
     

  • Online:

  • Exam Courses - Occasionally, local radio clubs will hold exam courses that meet on a weekday evening or a weekend day for several weeks. A course is valuable because the instructors can answer your specific questions and better explain some of the concepts of radio theory. For most such courses, you will still need to use a book (above) for required reading before each class.

    The New Providence Radio Club rarely runs such classes, but we are very willing to assist self-study students by assigning a club member to act as a mentor (we call them an "Elmers"). Just
    email us and let us know of your interest.

    You can also visit the web sites of other clubs or email them to see if they have upcoming Technician courses. http://www2.arrl.org/FandES/field/club/clubsearch.phtml?section=NNJ&selsect=Show+clubs+in+selected+ARRL+section
     

2. Taking your Technician Test

You can find a date, time and location where licensing exams will be given by using this web site:  http://www.arrl.org/arrlvec/examsearch.phtml  In some cases, you can simply show up to take the exam, but many test sites prefer that you pre-register.

The fee for the exam is $15 (for 2009). When you pay, you will also fill out a FCC application for an amateur radio license.

The paper and pencil multiple choice exam will be given by experienced hams, called Volunteer Examiners, who have been authorized to administer the exam and grade it.

If you pass the exam, the Volunteer Examiners will submit your application and certificate of successful test completion to the FCC. Within a few weeks, the FCC will mail you an official paper license with your new "callsign".  Note that you can check the FCC web site a few days after the exam to see if the FCC has issued you a callsign (search on your last name). You may start using your new radio privileges as soon as you know your callsign; you do not need to wait for the paper license to arrive in the mail.

If you fail the exam, you may retake it at any time, but you must pay the exam fee again. 

3. Upgrading Your License

Looking ahead, there are two higher levels of licenses, the intermediate level General license and the top level Extra license. The higher licenses will allow you to transmit on additional radio frequencies, including those on the "HF" bands which let you communicate over great distances. With a Technician license, you can only use the "VHF/UHF" bands which carry much shorter distances,  20-100 miles typically.

The process for upgrading is very similar for these higher licenses -- you must study for and pass a multiple choice exam that tests your technical knowledge. Many of the sites referenced above have learning aids for both the General and Extra licensing exams.

Learning the Morse Code

Although the Morse Code is no longer required for any Amateur Radio licenses, it's a communication mode enjoyed by many hams. It's also a useful mode because it can often be used when conditions don't allow voice or other modes. Until 2006, all hams with General class or higher licenses were required to learn the code, so you will find many hams using the code during contests, during poor band conditions, and just for fun.

Here's some info about learning the code:

First, read this helpful hints page at http://www.aa9pw.com/radio/learn_code.html

Many students use a  computer program or other audio aid to help learn Morse code. Some programs are free and some must be purchased. Opinions differ on which are 'best'. You can do a web search for "Morse code training" to find some of these aids, including the ARRL code practice cassettes/CDs at http://www.remote.arrl.org/catalog/lm/

You can find free Morris Code practice online at: http://www.aa9pw.com/radio/morse.html

For more information about becoming a ham see this ARRL web site: http://www.arrl.org/hamradio.html