Guest Rant: Ham Radio — Hackers’ Paradise

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by [Bill Meara]

The suits at Hack-a-Day reached out to SolderSmoke HQ and asked me to send in a few words about why their readers should take a fresh look at ham radio. Here goes:

First, realize that today’s ham radio represents a tremendous opportunity for technical exploration and adventure. How about building a station (and software) that will allow you to communicate by bouncing digital signals off the moon? How about developing a new modulation scheme to send packets not down the fiber optic network, but around the world via the ionosphere, or via ham radio’s fleet of satellites? How about bouncing your packets off the trails left by meteors? This is not your grandfather’s ham radio.

You can meet some amazing people in this hobby: Using a very hacked-together radio station (my antenna was made from scrap lumber and copper refrigerator tubing) I’ve spoken to astronaut hams on space stations. Our “low power, slow signal” group includes a ham named Joe Taylor. Joe is a radio astronomer who won the Nobel Prize for Physics. He’s now putting his software skills to use in the development of below-the-noise receiving systems for ham radio. Join me after the break for more on the topic.

When you start looking into amateur radio, don’t be deterred if the first hams you meet don’t seem to be as deeply into technology as you are. You have to seek out ham radio’s hard-core technical subculture. It is here that hackers will find kindred spirits. As in the hacker world, there is a kind of informal hierarchy based on technical ability and achievement. The FCC licenses have become so easy to get that they no longer count for much. But if you’ve built from scratch an entire shortwave radio station and use it to shoot the breeze with friends in Australia, well, that will win you amateur radio street cred, as will the computer skills that you’ll bring to the hobby from the hacker world.

Hackers will probably be pleasantly surprised by ham radio’s very strong tradition of mutual support and solidarity. Newcomers are welcome and more experienced hams volunteer to serve as mentors. Especially among people who build their own gear, we have a strong “my junk-box is your junk-box” spirit.

There is also a wonderful social aspect to the hobby. I have in my “shack” a shortwave radio station that I hacked myself from junk-box parts. I routinely fire it up and “calling CQ” look for someone out there to talk to. The response could come from down the street or from the other side of the world. What do we talk about? Well, the conversation usually begins with me talking about my amazing “homebrew rig” and goes on from there. At the risk of reinforcing a stereotype, I’ll note that many of us got into ham radio as teenagers in part because we were a bit socially awkward. I suspect that this is something that many hackers can identify with. You can make a lot of good friends in ham radio.

If you are passionate about electronic technology and are NOT a ham, well, you are missing something important. The Hack-A-Day guys are right: You should take a new look at ham radio.


About the author: Bill Meara’s diplomatic day job has nothing to do with electronics, so his amateur status in this field cannot be contested. A ham since age 14, he has pursued the hobby in numerous foreign countries. He is the host of the SolderSmoke podcast, and the author of “SolderSmoke: Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics.” 


157 thoughts on “Guest Rant: Ham Radio — Hackers’ Paradise

      1. The official name thing only applies to certain frequencies and wattage, and requires an exam, but you also have your open frequencies where you are not bound to a name. And there too you can reach mad distances of course.

        1. As a licensed ham, I can positively say that this isn’t true at all. All ham bands, regardless of frequency or power used, require station identification using the assigned call sign at the conclusion of a conversation, and every 10 minutes otherwise (CFR Title 47 part 97.119). There *are* other (non-ham) radio services, like CB, GMRS, MURS, and FRS which don’t require station identification, but you don’t have nearly the same access to frequencies, nor can you design your own radio for those services (radios have to be FCC type accepted).

          1. vpoko is correct. When operating as a ham, you must use your ham call sign, per 97.119. You can omit your ham call sign if you’re operating on an unlicensed service, but then you must obey the rules of that service, and your ham radio license doesn’t give you any privileges. I’ll further note that unlicensed radio generally can’t do long distance communication. GMRS, MURS, and FRS are all at frequencies that don’t offer long distance propagation. CB is at a frequency range that does offer “skip” for long distance propagation, but it is illegal to use CB radio to operate over a distance of more than 250km (approximately 155 miles), per CFR 47 part 95.413(a)(9). Enforcement of this provision of the CB rules is admittedly scarce.

          2. Note that there may be slight variations on the ID timing requirements from country to country, but the basics of at the end of the conversation and periodically durring the conversation always apply. Some countries require it at the beginning as well, but even if it’s not required, it’s good operating practice. For example, stations in Canada only need to ID every 30 minutes and at the beginning and end of the communication. (Per Industry Canada RBR-4 – Standards for the Operation of Radio Stations in the Amateur Service)

          3. This is exactly why ham has never been worth it for me. It’s not really mine if I have to ask someone’s permission to use it. I’ll stick to the internet, k thanx.

          4. Do you refuse to get a driver’s license for the same reason?

            Anyway, ham is a great hobby for those interested in the radio art. We like the licensing requirement because it helps to ensure that only people with the requisite technical skills participate. Someone operating incorrectly or with improperly built equipment can quickly ruin the hobby for a lot of other people, so we see licensing as a plus and not a minus. If you want to see what happens without licensing, check out the CB bands in places where they’re still popular. The quality of discourse is on par with Youtube comments.

          5. I think our disagreement is a misunderstanding of what falls under the name ‘ham’, where I included your normal CB type of person.

            And incidentally, if you play around with things like signal transmission and slow scan TV and what not then you can’t send your ID in plenty of cases.

          6. You can send an ID with slow-scan TV, and you’re allowed to send it as an image. The only time you’re not required identify, per the rules, is when you’re using ham bands for remote “telecommand of a craft”.

          7. One correction is that GMRS is _not_ an unlicensed service. You are required to have a valid GMRS license from the FCC in order to operate in the GMRS radio service. Station identification rules are pretty much identical with GMRS as with the amateur radio bands, with the exception that the callsign is completely different. Source: I am an Extra class amateur radio operator and I hold a GMRS license as well.

          8. That’s interesting, achra78, I knew about the license requirement (though the FCC has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to change GMRS licensing to by-rule like CB, FRS, and MURS) but didn’t know there were callsigns.

        2. That official name thing is the operator/station call sign issued by the regulating agency of each country. The class of license associated with call sign determine what bands & power levels the licensee can use. open frequencies do not exist where the FCC, regulates the spectrum, except for the unlicensed services. In the US we can use our given times or nicknames or what is known as tactical “call signs”, but we are required to ID using our call sign in a proscribed manner.

          1. By “name,” I think he was referring to CB handles. Ham operators don’t do that. Hams use their real names together with their government-issued (license) callsigns.

          2. Peter: Beyond that, I think the original post was an attempt at trolling by deliberately confusing Hams with stereotypical “Smokey and the Bandit” type CB operators, which (at least in these parts) is a fairly offensive thing to do to a Ham.

            Obviously, no one caught on so the joke is on the troll.

        3. @WHATNOT

          “I think our disagreement is a misunderstanding of what falls under the name ‘ham’, where I included your normal CB type of person.”

          Most Hams would not include ‘your normal CB type of person’. There are a variety of reasons for that and one can chose to debate it all day long however I think for the purposes of this conversation CB cannot possibly be included.

          Here in the US and I’m pretty sure in most other countries a CB transmitter may not be legally operated unless it is type accepted. Getting type acceptance is far outside the financial capabilities of any home maker/hacker. Likewise to maintain it’s type acceptance it cannot be modified or repaired by anyone other than a technician authorized by the company that made the device.

          Also, with mode and power limitations and even a hard set distance limit beyond which it is ilegal to communicate even if your 4-watt legal limit signal manages to get some skip what kind of hacking would you do? With the exception of the antenna and maybe power supply there just isn’t any legal room for hacking in CB.

          Anyway, my point is that anything specific to CB doesn’t even belong in the conversation because CB isn’t really compatible with hacking anyway.

          More applicable to the oringinal post about funny names, Ham radio is different from CB in other ways too. Many hams will tell you that things like CB “trucker talk” (10-4 good buddy) and silly handles don’t happen on ham radio.

          This is mostly true. In the area where I live and in most that I have traveled to a quick listen to the local repeaters gets me real people, having actual natural sounding conversations. Tuning CB I mostly hear people screaming “audiiiioooo audiiioooo ooone twoooo threeeee fouuur… auuudioo audiooo” or else cussing at each other. To be fair, on rare occasion I do hear someone actually talk to somebody else.

          But… there are bad apples in ham radio too. Unfortunately, on the HF bands where one’s signal can reach worldwide it only takes one and everyone can hear them. So.. you will find some trucker talk, people preaching, going on about government conspiracies, aliens and etc… but… just turn the dial and you will find an actual sane “or at least seemingly sane :-) ” person.

          Ok, I guess I did get into the ‘you can debate it all day’ reasons why Ham radio is not like CB afterall.. oh well that was more pertinent anyway, let the flame war begin.

          1. As far as CB radio is concerned, it is a service that uses frequencies that were removed from the amateur radio service way back in the 50s (I think) for lack of use.
            Citizens Band Radio is not anything like ham radio.
            1) all transmissions have to be in an operating mode that uses either double side band full carrier (A3) mode or Single Side Band (A3J) mode. It is limited to 40 channels which are assigned by the FCC in a narrow band of frequencies. Those are the only frequencies used and assigned to those frequencies. Period.

            Amateur radio, on the other hand, has existed before any other radio operation all the way back to Marconi in the late 1800s. In those days, the only method of transmission and reception was Morse Code and there were two standards of morse code then; American and Intercontinental morse code, which were two different animals.

            Formal licensing came with the inception of the Federal Radio Service a US government entity designed to organise the chaos that radio was back then.They did this by insisting that all radio stations have frequencies that they operated on and that call signs were were issued to each and every radio station that had a transmitter. Hams operated in the “useless” frequencies below 200 Meters. (yes things were measured in meters not frequencies)

            CItizens Band and all other radio services came along with the advent of the 1943 institution of The Federal Communications Commission and the WW2 banning of Amateur Radio for defence purposes.

            After the WW2 debacle.The FCC reopened the radio spectrum to the amateur radio people and assigned them call signs beginning with either W or K. A typical call sign would be W1ABC or K1ABC. It was a little more complicated than that, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion.

        4. @whatnot

          No, using different modes neither prevents nor excuses one from sending their id.

          You mentioned slow scan. That one is easy. You include your id as part of the picture you send.

          For various digital modes such as packet, APRS, DSTAR your call sign is part of the headers in the packets you send. It’s kind of nice because you don’t have to even think about sending it. It’s already there.

          the same kind of thing goes with any mode. Usually you just send your id the same way as you send your data although sometimes, such as when experimenting with a new digital mode you might id by switching to cw and sending it in morse to meet the requirement. When using an SSB transmitter that ability can be built right into software, you only need to send a steady tone.

          The one time were hams might legally not id is really low power modes like QRSS.* The only reason they get away with not iding then isn’t because there is any exception built into ham radio rules. It’s because at such low power they can fall under part 15(US) rules. That’s an entirely different radio service, not ham radio. It’s the same rules that allow for things like wifi and cordless phones without a license.

          Part 15 (unlike CB) is another way hackers/makers can experiment with radio as homemade equipment is allowed. It is extremely limited what one can do with part15 compared to ham radio though. Ham licenses are easy to get and allow for much much more.

          * Really slow cw (morse code) that takes several minutes to just send a word, people experiment with it because by keeping the bandwidth down you can sometimes reach over 1000 km with a tiny fraction of a watt.

    1. I assume you’re referring to the call sign? That’s assigned by the government, and it’s what hams are required to use on the air to identify their transmissions. It’s often used in other contexts, as well. It’s relatively short, and guaranteed to be unique worldwide. It immediately tells other hams your country, and sometimes your approximate location within the country. Hams can look up a call sign to find the name and home location of the operator. Some hams put their call sign on their license plate. More than one has it on his tombstone.

      73 de AG6QR

        1. What one puts on their marker is there decision,. By way of explanation, though, as you participate in the hobby over the course of years your assigned call sign becomes a part of you. In that way it is kind of like a nick name of sorts. You often will append it to non Ham communication, and often refer to friends in the hobby as much by their call sign as their name.

          Virgil, KU4TP

    2. Some “handles” (nicknames) are mnemonics to help others remember their “call sign”.
      Just as WNBC is an FCC required call sign for a television/radio station, K5WL is the call sign of the poster above. Transmissions need to include call signs. So, to help other hams remember K5WL, the above poster may refer to him(?)self as “Ken’s 5 Wild Ladies” or “Kentucky’s 5 Whiskey Lovers”.

    3. We should just let the oil, mining, and logging company coming in a strip mountains bare, etc etc.

      RF is a natural resource, just like minerals, oil, and trees. They need to be regulated so that they are not abused and that all can enjoy them.

    4. RF spectrum is limited. That’s why we have rules about it. It is doubtful that much communication could be done over all the interference if we had anarchy in radio. That includes all those things some people seem to forget are radio btw, like tv, cellphone, etc… There would be too many people ‘shouting’ on the same frequencies.

      As for ‘tracking and censorship’, I guess you are talking about rules like not being able to use codes and cyphers to obscure the meaning of your communication in ham radio… Hams are actually some of the biggest supporters of keeping that rule. look at the demand for bandwidth these days for wireless internet. Without that rule we would have milions using ham frequencies for surfing the web overnight. Then the bands would be so full nobody could really use them for anything.

      “overrun with non-compliance.”… I think you are advocating protest through civil disobedience here… That may work for some things but I wouldn’t recommend it. You had better do your homework first, this isn’t just a night in jail. The fines involved can be huge!!!

      Despite disagreeing with your idea that all RF spectrum should be without rules I might vote for a single band designated that way given the chance. Of course.. there would be one rule. Your signal must not interfere with anything out of band! It would probably be too full of interference to be very useful but overcoming that interference could be a good technological challenge to spur further development. Then again.. that’s kind of what CB became and yet it didn’t have that result.

      1. John Galt? ARRL exam? Oh; that poor delusional John Galt. ;) Still lost on the ARRL exam though. Their exam consists of send us the yearly dues. And we will send you the membership journal every month. Maintain the VEC, keep an eye on Washington D.C.

        1. The ARRL does not issue licenses. Only the FCC does that. The licensing system uses unpaid volunteers who are certified through any of several groups (in my case, 2 different ones, ARRL and W5YI) and are legally responsible to keep the exams honest. Since I can’t pay a $10,000 fine and don’t care to lose my license for a decade, I make sure to give applicants exactly the grade they merit.
          The ARRL is simply the largest of several ham radio groups around the world. The membership fee mainly gets you a magazine subscription and regular reminders to congress that there are over 700,000 Americans who care about who uses what frequencies.

    5. As soon as the Federal government realized that Marconi’s (or Telsa’s) silly idea of modulating hertz waves to deliver information, and most of them were spark gap devices, they felt that these individuals needed to keep to a specific region. Yes it is annoying and possibly violates both common sense and the founding beliefs behind our country, but this is years before the NSA was even considered. Especially since spark gap devices produce large quantities of waves with little or no information embedded in them. Study what happens when a lightning bolt gets delivered and you’ll see most of what I mean.

      1. Same reason why railroads came up with the concept of time zones. They prevented collisions between trains.

        The FCC and other radio spectrum governing agencies were created to make rules and guidelines to prevent collisions amongst different transmissions.

        Spark gap transmitters blasted out across wide swaths of the RF spectrum, within the transmitter’s effective range there could be only one. Mostly they were used just for transmitting Morse code because they were very difficult to modulate for voice.

        1. I always thought they implemented time zones so that didn’t have to deal with continent full of local times. We are the rail road 12 noon will be when we tell you it is.. Not that I could blame the rail roads.

        2. Yep. It cut down the amount of timetables each rail company had to calculate and print, when every town took it’s time from the Town Hall clock, or perhaps a church. Which took it’s time from a sundial. Invented originally I think in Britain, and we’re not even an hour wide.

          Up until that point, nothing had ever moved quickly enough to need timing more accurately than morning / afternoon / night.

          There was an interesting documentary a while back, for a long while there was a woman in London who was paid to start her rounds at (I think) the Greenwhich observatory. She carried the most accurate portable clock she could reasonably use. Over the day she’d travel between subscribing businesses, telling them the time so they could synchronise their clocks.

          Ah, found her.

        3. Very cool, Greenaum, I’d never heard of her. What’s interesting, though, is that the Rugby clock (a radio station) was broadcasting a time signal worldwide from 1926 on. I wonder why businesses either didn’t tap into this, or that businesses weren’t set up specifically for receiving this signal. Seems much more economical that a weekly train trip to Greenwich.

        4. The business was started in 1836 by Ruth’s father. After he died, his wife, then his daughter Ruth took over. Ruth herself ran it from 1892 – 1940, when she retired at 86! She lived til she was 90.

          There’s some interesting stuff about her on the web. A competitor (without revealing such) made a disparaging speech, later printed in The Times, laughing at how out of date it all was. Reporters besieged her after this, for her interesting story, and the possible rivalry. After it all died down she had more customers than ever.

          And the moral is… the British love an underdog! Well, when it’s presented in the right way we do. I think that might be responsible for her 14 years of work after Rugby started up, who’s going to tell a 72 year old lady to stuff her watch up her arse? They must have guessed she’d retire soon enough, and after all the years of providing an important service. Stuff like that used to be worth something.

        5. Ah right, I’ve just seen what you mean… why didn’t Ruth herself buy a radio? I might guess cos they weren’t cheap back then, and possibly she thought it was more technical stuff than she could deal with. Clocks and old ladies are both well-known and trusted technology.

          I suppose she could’ve phoned Greenwich up herself. But there’s a nice story and a sense of ceremony in going to Greenwich to get the time in person. It also isn’t that far from the centre of London, it’s no trip, really, and the Underground and London’s other public transport was going well by that point.

          I think the sense of ceremony and authority, and kindness to Ruth, are what drove most of the market towards the end, and also the reason why nobody bothered taking the business up after she retired.

    6. Right on! I say the same thing about the man making us all drive on the right side of the road. If I want to drive on the left one, why shouldn’t I be able to? It’s called freedom! The spectrum should just be a free for all. Sure, no one could use it except maybe a few very-well heeled corporations with budgets for megawatt transmitters, but at least we’d be free. Am I right people?

      By the way, why did you put “government” in quotes?

      1. If all were allowed to use the spectrum as they like, you would soon have congestion & soon no one will be able to use anything.
        I find it a bit hypocritical that you are ready to use a mobile phone (limited to its own freq. bands) or internet (again limited/regulated IP addresses and such) but have issues with regulation on spectrum for HAM!

        1. This situation that you esoouse is precisely why the Fed instituted the Federal Radio Service just prior to the turn of the 20th Century. Because radio at that time was unregulated and those who were using Mraconi’s Modulated system to broadcast were piling on top of each other and no one was able to hear anything when they turned their crystal radios on to listen.

          There was no such thing as selectivity then and the most likely radio receiver back then was most likely a crystal radio which could hear anything that was being broadcast at that time.

    7. Who would you have regulate it or just have it a free for all, where Verizon, ClearChannel or ATT could broadcast their own high powered signal over a broad area, swamping all others?

      How about every citizen band together, and come to some common consensus as to what the rules should be, then we can choose a group of people to administer those rules? How about instead of some huge hundreds of millions of people conversation, we just group together and chose representatives? Then when we establish rules, we can give business a region of the RF and they can license from us specific frequencies and powers. Then we can open up other ranges of frequencies to the public! Hey, in case people (griefers) just start shouting nonsense over this limited resource, in order to drown out discussion, we make it so you have to get a license and prove that your intentions are honest.

      Hey, that’s the ‘Government’ and our current System!

    8. Those fools where the predecessors of today’s amateur radio operators. There was time when the military arm of the US government was poised to seize the right to use radio for it’s own use only. Chances are you benefit from how the FCC manages the RF spectrum. Thank those fools and the civilian government, rather than sounding like an anarchist/libertarian with out a clue. BTW those first fool, er”hams” operated in anarchical fashion for the simple reason it was new frontier, fortunately they where intelligent enough see there was going to be a need for a sanctioning body & referees to keep things from getting out of hand.

    9. That’s a bit daft, I work using RF cameras in live TV broadcasting, and we have very tight regulations on bandwidth, frequency and power, for good reasons.

      During the Queens Jubilee, folks were nipping over the Channel to London with unlicenced RF equipment and firing it up and interfering with us, it was a bit of a free for all.

      It would be completely irresponsible for some idiot to fire up on any frequency just because they think they shouldn’t be restricted.

      We need the regulations to keep everything in order. Without them it would be completely abused.. Try using RF in other countries without the laws and see how far you get..

    10. I’ve been reading the replies to this. I believe it is in regards to the Phonetic Alphabet used to say their call sign. i.e Alpha ,Bravo ,Charlie, Tango ect. Hams use this Universal Phonetic Alphabet to correctly understand the call sign. A “c” can sound like an “e” or a b,d,ect especially when the signal’s fading or there is noise on the band. So if a guy’s call is for say WD9BVC it’s easier to say Wiskey Delta 9 Bravo Victor Charlie to get the call right the first time than trying to repeat it over and over.

    11. If I remember correctly, back in the sixty s you had to be licensed to operate a CB. the FCC dropped that requirement in the seventy s, and the result was trash talk, and other poor behavior heard today on CB. Very unfortunate, but proves the point that licensing can help keep things in order. Hams keep it pretty clean and tidy for the most part.

      1. -y -ies

        The license was basically filling out a form and mailing it off, and they’d send you a call sign and a license, Was $20 and then it was dropped to $4 in the mid 70s, but when the “CB Craze” hit people didn’t care and didn’t bother getting a license, I don’t remember when the license requirement was dropped but it’s pretty much a free-for-all now

    1. In the U.S., is a great resource, and for study guides I would suggest . The technician (1st level ), and general (2nd level), are pretty much stupid simple, it usually costs about $15 to get tested each time, and doesn’t take much time at all. Though, the extra class (3rd and final level) licence is effectively a course on AC/DC/RF theory, though most everyone now is usually just a general class operator because the extra spectrum most often isn’t worth it.

    2. Visit , search for a nearby club that offers license classes. Because this only list clubs that are affiliated with the ARRL it’s not a comprehensive list. Inquire locally at schools or even the emergency preparedness director,the NWS office that serves your location, or any two way radio shops if they are around. if they know of an amateur radio contact person who could tell you more. Good luck…

    3. There’s no need to even think of Morse code for a US ham license any more. That was dropped when the last of the international treaties requiring it expired. It was finally declared unnecessary when the last branch of the US military dropped Morse code nearly 10 years ago. The Technician class license test now pretty much proves you can read and write, have read the FCC regulations, and can identify symbols on a circuit diagram. There are kids as young as 4 passing this exam. You’re limited (except for a couple of CW bands) to frequencies above 50 MHz, so your range is limited to about half a million miles (bouncing it off the moon), or 3,000 miles in certain conditions with a decent antenna. If you settle for a handheld radio, you’re limited to about 20 miles direct, 250 miles to the International Space Station, or about 500 miles using one of about 70 ham satellites. Those distances assume your handheld radio puts out 5 watts, a bit less than a night light. You can also design, build, and use your own TV stations, with your FCC call sign included as a caption in the picture.

  1. are there any getting started guides out there? I’d *love* to get into HAM, but I know no one who does it, nor any website that explains it very well. add to that the problem of not being located in the US of A.

        1. He meant But really you shouldnt have to resort to asking them; they don’t control licensing in your country anyway. You probably have a local or regional club that can help you. If you can tell me where you are (city,country) I might be able to point you in the right direction.

    1. There are study materials and practice tests at that will get you ready for the exam, and the FCC rules are publicly available as CFR 47 part 97. The ARRL and W5YI-VEC web sites include lists of upcoming exams listed by date and location. In many cases, these are monthly sessions.
      At a given exam session, there may be tests given for all 3 levels of license. Also, there is a processing fee (under $15) charged. If you pass the lowest level exam, you get to try the next level, and if you pass that, you can take the top level exam, all for that one fee. If you fail an exam, you can pay the fee again, retake the exam (the exact questions will be different) and possibly pass. Most VE groups have 5 different tests for each license level. You start using your license as soon as you show up in the FCC database.
      NOTE: If you don’t like the callsign they assign, you can pay a fee to get a vanity call of any available one legal for your level of license.

  2. Tom
    CW is no longer required for achieving a ham radio license. If you want more information about how to get involved, visit There are three different licenses available for Radio Amateurs. The Technician class license, the first in the sequence, gives you access to the VHF and UHF bands and a small portion of the 10m frequency band. This is mostly used for local communications, as well as satellites, moon-bounce, and remote control. The next level gives you access to long distance communication in the 10m through 180m bands. This allows round the world transmission.
    Most hams tend to be very friendly about their hobby and they aren’t all older. I am part of a college ham radio group that consists of engineers in their twenties.

    1. In the United States there is a 35 question test that gives you privileges on the bands. There is a published question pool and you only need 75% correct to pass the test. It constitutes mostly of the rules governing the use of the radios and is relatively easy.
      I highly recommend the Ham Radio License Manual which can be found on amazon or at the local library.

  3. Becoming a ham is very easy these days.

    To take your test you need to find a club, most clubs have VEs (examiners) who can give you the test. The ARRL has a great search tool to find local clubs, keep in mind there are clubs not working with the ARRL so Google is another good place to look.

    ARRL Club Search:

    The test is about $14USD to take and if time is available if you pass your technician class (the lowest class available) you can take the next two class tests at no extra charge.

    There are 3 classes.

    Technician: UHF/VHF Bands- Local communications with a small 10m band HF portion.
    General: All the radio bands except for a few dedicated CW spaces on HF.
    Extra: You get those extra CW spaces, and you can become a VE yourself.

    I went to to take my practice exams, but QRZ has free practice tests if you don’t want to pay the hamtestonline fees.

    Any questions feel free to ask me! kr0siv at

  4. I’ve only recently gotten my Ham license. All I did was study the tests on, then find the nearest testing session on I walked in, paid my $15 and passed both the Technician and the General class tests. I plan to take the Extra next month. It’s something I’ve been wanting to so for some time. Now I’m working on getting my shack set up. I’m up on 2 meters, hitting the repeaters around town. Now I just need to get my antenna up and running and I’ll be on HF!

      1. You can get tropospheric ducting on any VHF band. I hit a 2m repeater at ~100mi a couple of weeks ago with my HT at 5W and had a QSO with a guy who was getting into the same repeater from another ~130miles on the opposite side with 25W. Path was Houston, TX to Beaumont, TX to Lafyette, LA.

  5. Hey! The FCC license is easy to get, but it remains a barrier to entry. When CB usage was deregulated CB licensees all over complained, but for those who just want to talk on plug-and-play equipment it’s a fabulous thing.

    I enjoy having a license and the privileges it grants. One nice thing is getting to put my own equipment together and not having to rely on “bubble-pack FRS” any longer.

  6. I’ll agree with Bill Meara’s points and add a few from my own perspective. I’ve always been an electronics tinkerer, and I had a shortwave radio since age 10 or so. As a kid, I never had the perseverance to master Morse Code, so I never got a ham license. A bit less than a year ago I found out that there was no more requirement for code for any class of license. Within a week of discovering that bit of info, I had passed the exam for my Extra class license, which gives me full privileges to operate any mode on any ham bands. Since then, I’ve built radios and antennas, and had a blast. And I’m even learning the Morse Code, because it’s still a very efficient way to send a signal for a long distance with low power. I’ve “talked” over 6000 miles using just five watts bouncing off the ionosphere.

    The license is very easy, at least in the USA. Start at and click the “licensing/education/training” tab. If you’re the technical type who reads Hack-a-Day, the electronics theory part will be easier for you than most. You still need to learn the operating rules and practices, but those aren’t hard. Most cities have ham clubs that will teach classes, but you can self-study if you prefer.

    There are many non-technical hams. There are some semi-technical hams who have experience about what kinds of equipment works well, without much understanding about why (there are many useful pearls of wisdom to be learned from this type of ham). But there are some who are extremely technical, and they can teach you a lot. There are lots of opportunities both for learning and for advancing the state of the art.

    Speaking of the state of the art, there are so many little obscure niches in the world of ham radio that it would take a few lifetimes to explore them all. There’s no requirement to progress through a certain sequence in order.

  7. I was a CB brat back in the late 60’s. Big deal then was running a ham rig that you converted to work on 11 meters(CB band). Thats where I got bit by the bug. I bought & built a Heathkit station & converted it. I still have that gear! Never could master Morse code. Now I finally got my ‘ticket’ that code is no longer required. It is a great, rewarding hobby. I highly recommend it. W2RNJ

      1. If the existing local club is well established it would probably work out better to join them and then start leading some activities yourself. There are probably others there who would be interested in more hands on building and experimenting. Just come up with a few ideas for simple starter projects and offer to lead a build night after a regular meeting now and then. Others you didn’t expect will come out of the woodwork and do the same. That way you get one stronger club which is good for both kinds of activities, not two clubs that compete for members dividing the community.

        1. I must agree. Especially if the club has a club station somewhere, or operates a repeater (or several), there’s usually a technical committee in place to maintain the equipment. These are the people you are looking for.

          1. I wish that was my experience. The current “Technical Director” has no technical background and is legally illiterate. The Tech Committee is a group of old fuddie-duddies who wish to tell those with knowledge, experience, and health how it should be done, then readily flow with negative commentary when you didn’t do it the way they “mandated” in their one-man autocracy.

          2. I gues you could talk to the tech comittee. They are probably most likely to be interested in the technical side.

            I was thinking more just putting on something at the end of the general meetings. I don’t know about every other club but the one I am in is always looking for content, presentations for the meetings. They want something for people to go for beyond just the regular new business/ old business parlimentary procedure. There’s no official, regularly scheduled building but if someone wants to have a build night they are up for it. You just have to come up with what you want to build, find a design for it somewhere, preferably not too expensive and small enough to build in an hour or two. Then, pick a month (oour meetings our monthly). Anounce it ahead of time and have people sign up / bring money for the parts. Have the parts sorted and ready to go the day of the build. Also, ask people that can bring extra soldering irons to do so to loan to those who don’t have any.

            i think you might do better in general meetings like that because likely the tech comittee people will all be there but also anyone else who might be interested but for one reason or another is not on the tech comittee might be there.

          3. @Me:
            That is an option as well. I’ve put on presentations a couple times, and even ran a build night once. (Tip: DO NOT do a build night with deadbug construction and expect the majority of the participants projects to work, even with instructions with pictures)

    1. The club I belong to has what is called “Construction Project” that meets twice a month from October through April (we stay indoors during the colder months here!). The tag line goes something like “Bring in your radio gear and we’ll get it working!”

      We have retired hardware guys, EE’s, technicians and many others who have a wealth of knowledge and skill that make this effort worth the time. People bring in their hamfest finds, or their latest projects to show off. It’s great technical fun.


  8. Oh, and not to forget: being a HAM ain’t that bad in job interviews, either. I am working as a software engineer (embedded) and all my employers either were HAMs themselves or did understand the meaning. Being able to state my call-sign (DG9FAB,btw) always gave me the credibility that I could touch a soldering iron w/o hurting myself. Maybe that’s one day the thing that distinguishes you from the other applicants…

    1. That’s not absolute and I would caution anyone who considered it to not unless they know for certain it’s a leg up. Where I work in the Federal Emergency Management Community, had I broadcast in my resume I was a ham, I would never had been hired. Hams have a very bad reputation here. Too many self-proclaiming “experts” in my neck of the woods.

      1. I’m mildly involved with emergency preparedness locally (County level ARES RO), I do my best not to overstated what the local ham community can do, while not understating our capabilities. I have to be curious as to what you mean your “neck of the woods” Are you speaking of your area of residence or at your workplace or both? Nearby a ham was a law enforcement dispatcher. He rubbed some in the PD the wrong way, but he also did a lot to get that counties ARES?RACES group obtain professionalism as well the group did earn letters of commendation from agencies in adjoining counties for mutual aid activities well done. Sometimes the doers can’t make everyone happy.

      2. It depends on how you approach the subject, Bullmoose. I’ve actually received jobs in that community because I am a ham. I was recruited by FEMA for the response to Charley/Frances/Ivan/Jean via the ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) group in my area, because we had a good working relationship with our local EMA. That same group is also how I became involved in the disaster response team I currently am on, which at the time I became involved was a part of FEMA, and ham equipment is specifically verbotten to use in that group. (something about us using NTIA spectrum instead of FCC spectrum, and HIPAA compliance…) Also, I received my current job because of my involvement in the ARPSC (Amateur Radio Public Service Corps, basically a hybrid of ARES and RACES), and this started with another local EMA, working under a grant in a nuclear county…

  9. I’ve been working for a number of years to help bring together the ham and DIY/Maker communities, and before that trying to get the various online communities (like Slashdot back in the day) to recognize that hams are the ones who preserved the DIY spirit through the dark ages of the 1970’s – 2000 when closed-box consumer electronics gizmos took over from things you could make and repair yourself. I’ve been luck enough to have been part of ham activities at the SF Maker Faire (organized by others) and to bring some of those projects here to Hack-a-day (Marauder’s Map and Cascata).

    Out of that effort came a book of ham radio and Arduino and Picaxe projects, published by the ARRL, which is non-profit. I don’t get any money when the ARRL sells a copy, but I edited the book and collected my own and others’ projects together to try to bring communities together, so please do take a look.

    1. I am currently reading that book, I borrowed it from the local ham club’s library (another advantage of being member of a good ham club). I like it a lot, and I’m going to build the sweeper project. I just bought a couple (5 actually) of 9850 DDS boards from China, so I’ll need to build an amplifier myself, which will be a leaning experience in itself. Thank you for writing the book, you did a great job.

  10. The three reasons I always give:
    1. Legally communicate with the space station / satellites.
    2. Allowed to take apart a microwave and transmit with it. :)
    3. When all else fails – Ham radio. (Earthquake, Hurricane, Zombies)
    – Kris

  11. I recently got my technicians license and its good to see an article like this here – i agree wholeheartedly that radio is a hackers paradise – one that is relatively untapped by the hackaday style community — so, a lot of potential for interesting work. In some ways hack a day planted the seed of my interest in radio through the articles on sdr. I started experimenting with the usb tv receivers as radios and the interest grew from there.

    getting through the test is easy – get the arrl book at the library and read it. I talked to a friend at work with an arrl calendar in his cube one day and he gave me a copy of the book the next day — elmer for the win.

    after you study take the test for $15 at a local radio club. google it. you will pass. study more and go for the general class (much more hf privilege) if you want. when you pass on one test the next one(s) are free in the same sitting.

    with a tech license you have privileges in uhf, vhf and limited in some hf bands. radios are cheap. check out the baofeng uv-5r handheld — about $35. It will get you on local 2 meter (144mhz) and 70cm bands. you can also build antennas that will allow this radio to make contacts via satellite (one one so-50 today for this radio, but more are apparently coming via cubesats) or if youre lucky, contact the ISS. Working on a three element tape measure yagi now.

    I also picked up a 6 meter qrp (low power) mfj-9406. Pretty late to the party this season, but it’ll be worth the wait. I put together a telescoping dipole for this – check out youtube for a few good examples.

    Right now I wish I would have gotten on ten meters first though since right now we’re at a high point (peaking at a 100 yr low btw) in the 11 yr solar cycle – during this time very long distance contacts (world scale) are possible with relatively low power. a slice of the ssb (voice) section of this band is accessible to the technician class and there are single band radios available for around $100 made by realistic/radio shack.

    i went to a local ham club meeting and the members were all nice – seemed like a small community of members that was tightly knit. there was a pretty large age gap between me and many of them (generations) but it was interesting how the interest can span the gap. it was not unlike meetings I have been to at a local hackerspace.

    there is so much potential for this hacker diy community to make their mark on the hobby — i would suspect that it could even steer the future of the hobby if adopted.


  12. I have recently got into ham by trying to understand how to get long range communication between two Arduinos. I have always been a programmer/hacker only building using known simple analog and MCUs ICs. I started by taking apart a cheap $35 5W radio, and replacing its cpu ( ). In the process I learned more about RF and Morse code (the original binary protocol). Since then, I have built inexpensive SDR radios and was able to send signals directly from California to Georgia with only 0.5W (No repeaters, just bouncing RF off the Ionosphere on 10m). Talk about long distance.

    As a side note of learning Morse, I started placing a single LED and a touch switch (made from a PCB trace) on all my PCBs for use in debugging. The MCU sends me status during startup, or ongoing messages in Morse on the LED and I can interact with the MCU using the touch switch. No need for bulky LCD displays, or having the thing hooked up to your computer.

    Just my 10 bits.


  13. “At the risk of reinforcing a stereotype, I’ll note that many of us got into ham radio as teenagers in part because we were a bit socially awkward. I suspect that this is something that many hackers can identify with.”

    Since no one has backed you up on this – yep, I can identify.

    But at that age for me, you needed Morse code proficiency to qualify for a license that didn’t restrict your ability to access the spectrum for voice communications. It seemed elitist and archaic, and if the regulations were that way, perhaps the people the hobby attracted were predominantly that way too. While in retrospect I realize that was an unfair assumption, it was enough to turn me off from the hobby. I set up a BBS instead, got a CB radio (I miss games of Possum Hunt), and so on. By the time I discovered the licensing requirements had been relaxed, I could no longer muster my original enthusiasm, and my time and budget were filled with other things.

    Just relating a story, not knocking the hobby. Glad to see so much interest in it. Even though I’ll probably never be a Ham, living through events like Hurricane Katrina have given me additional respect for it.

  14. I’ve been a HAM since august. For me, the greatest thing about it is that I can build my own transmitter and experiment as much as I want. Using WSPR, I’ve been heard 17,000 km away with a peaberry SDR kit I built, sending with 1W of power. Using gnuradio, I’ve been getting my feet wet in DSP.

    I can agree with the article: if you’re addicted to the smell of soldering, get a HAM license. It’s fun! There’s a lot happening in the field. Maybe just visit some local clubs, find the homebrewing people and you’ll be amazed by their competence. And they’re eager to pass on their knowledge.The HAM and hacker cultures have so much to offer each other, yet until now, they haven’t really connected. It’s very, very unfortunate, IMO.

    PS: In order to train, I wrote a HAREC test program, available here in case it can help someone: (only for Dutch-speaking Belgians at the moment).

    Hans – ON8VQ

    1. Congratulations on the new license!! Got my license way back in 1964 (WA8LGM). Been up and down the radio dial as a radio personality and engineer. finally, retired. 70 now and enjoying retirement.

      73 de John WA8LGM –… …– .-.-. …-.-

  15. My experience in Ham Radio is nowhere near what I’m reading here. I wish it was. The major club in the area is a group of 300+ folks that are waiting for the end of days, and ham radio is one way to prepare. Aluminum foil hats, open-carry “patriots” who openly talk about when the government collapses how they’ll be there. The technical knowledge was chased out, and replaced with self-righteous inbreds all looking for something that fulfills their desire to feel important without any need to know something. I joined and got my license with the idea I’d find a group of like-minded tinkerers with an interest in the technical things that make all their magic store-bought black voice machines work. I thought I’d find bleeding edge. I found the definition of “high-tech” being technology that’s already been a minimum 20+ years in the commercial world. I’ve looked around, and found nothing else around here. The don’t regulate, they don’t follow simplest of Amateur Radio requirements such as use no more power than necessary. 50W into a 4-bay 9dBi gain folded dipole on an APRS digipeater servicing a city from an 7600ft overlooking mountaintop for example. I’ll get off my soapbox now. I guess I’m jealous you all have had a decent experience. Here, don’t show up without a light bar on your car. :-)

    1. I’m not certain what area you are in, but you might want to try talking to your SEC about this. There are a few people like that around here, but our SEC is really working to improve the image, and people like that are generally turned around when they try showing up for something because of the image they present. Unless you have a need for a light bar, such as if you are a volunteer firefighter, or drive a truck that is equipped as a snow plow, you shouldn’t have a light bar. (Those two require the light bar for other things)

      1. Unfortunately, the SEC is on board with it. We’ve had one too many Hams “self-deploy” to emergencies such as house fires, then act like they own the incident. It’s more than one loon in the bunch too. The running response from the local Ham community is “it’s a free country, and he’s a volunteer, there’s nothing we can do”, Suffice to say, the entire Ham community is banned, local ARES has zero serving organizations, and Ham is usually followed by giggles.

        1. That is rather unfortunate. Perhaps a discussion with your SM might help as well, though I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t be aware of this. Note that if people are using the ARES logo improperly, there are things that can be done, as that logo is copyrighted by the ARRL. This would be done by contacting the ARRL. If you are having dificulty with your section, try HQ. (Note for those unfamiliar – SM = Section Manager, an elected position within the ARRL. Generally, each section is a state, though some are less, others are more. SEC – Section Emergency Coordinator – a position appointed by the SM to handle the ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) programs within the section. Below the SEC are the DECs, (District Emergency Coordinators), then the ECs. Most SECs, DECs, and even ECs will have one or more assistants (put an A before the title) to help handle their functions. One of the major functions of the ECs (at all levels) is to promote the image of amateur radio, and coordinate with various served agencies such as the local EMA, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Fire Departments, and other similar organizations)

  16. As much as it would be awesome to see the hacker/maker/diy community get interested in ham radio, it really seems like it would be a collision of two utterly opposite worlds. I think this is why there is so little overlap. If you listen to the conversations people are having, it’s 99% what brand of radio, what brand of antenna, etc.. and 1% people shouting horrifying racist or inflammatory ultra-rightwing political stuff. It’s really disappointing, because it could be so much more. And it’s not a community that welcomes new people or embraces any kind of change. About the only common ground is a sense of wonder at being able to convey information over huge distances with no infrastructure in between. I think there was a big boom in ham radio in the 1950s when it was very cutting-edge and was often the only way of communication between point A and point B – that community is growing old and I think the culture will change greatly as that side of it dies out. Both good and bad – it really was a sort of cameraderie of a kind that I don’t think could ever arise again in the modern age – but on the other hand, it is or has been very much stuck in the past, bound by a culture that the world has passed by. The reality is that in this age of the internet and satellite communication, ham has very little concrete, practical utility – you really have to stretch to contrive a situation where it’s the only thing that will solve a given problem. It isn’t any less cool or interesting for that — it just needs to be seen for what it is – something really cool and interesting and endlessly complex that you can do all sort of things with. It’s a pity that the standard reaction is “wow, people still do that?”

    (btw yes i’m licensed -extra- and know cw)

    1. I agree that the majority of hams aren’t the sort to build their own equipment, at least not on any substantial level or scale. However, there are many thousands of us who do, you just have to seek them out.

      We’re widely scattered enough that you won’t often find a local club with a strong hacker subculture, except in specific environments like STEM schools or extremely tech-heavy areas. The most active groups by far are online, but you *can* find many of those folks by going to hamfests, especially the big ones. If you go to Dayton or Orlando, you realize pretty quickly that there are far more than you’d suppose just by talking to folks on the air.

      The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that many of the hackers in the hobby are highly specialized. Some guys do transmitters, some (like me) do antennas and other station hardware, some toy with the digital end and write software or develop new modes. Some just build kits. I think the hacker culture in ham radio is a bit more nebulous because each of those groups tends to keep to themselves in large part.

      I do want to say thoug, If you want to find the sure fire hardware hackers, find the satellite operators, and the backpack QRP operators. Those are the guys who come up with some wickedly innovative hardware out of necessity.

    2. It’s true that if you listen to the amateur bands you find a lot of mostly older, male hams talking about their day, what they had for lunch, etc. They’re certainly the ones making most use of bands if you go purely by air time. But there are other kinds of hams, too, making use of their license without chatting on the air for hours on end about nothing in particular.

      Me, personally, I’m interested in radio as an extension of my interest in electronics. I like learning about receivers, antennas, transmitters, etc, and trying out what I learn. For me, getting on for a quick signal report is all the talking I care to do on the radio. Having the license lets me use the frequencies for what I want to use them for – experimenting on radios. It’s not a communication medium for me. I feel like it’s a very exciting time in radio. Software Defined Radio is huge, it moves an amazing amount technology into the hands of any enthusiast who’s interested. Plus with WiFi, cellular, Bluetooth, and all the other heavily used radio technologies around, it’s not like learning about the science of radio is a waste of time.

    3. Your post makes me a bit sad, as well as confused. You certainly have a bleak view of Amateur Radio. As for the confusing parts –
      You lament the 1% and use that, apparently, as the basis for a negative position. Have you seen the Internet lately? As for the other 99% who you descibe as only talking about what brands of what equipment thry have, would you condem a car enthusiast for bragging about their ride? Or what modifications they have done to it? The percentages themselves are obviously debatable as well.
      As for little practicle concrete utility, maybe you should look to another of your lamentations – the lack of infrastructure. It is that very aspect of Amateur Radio that gives it that utility you have insisted on when infrastructure fails, as it often does in disaster.
      Yes, it is true. Amateur Radio has a past. A long and glorious one at that. I trust you are aware (I’m sure you are, being an Extra and all) that many of the technological wonders you enjoy today can trace their roots – if not to Amateur Radio itself – to individuals who were Hams. As for being stuck in the past, I suggest you examine recent work in narrow band HF digital or some of the work some Hams are doing in microwave bands, or with SDR. You might be surprised how cutting edge much of it is.
      Sattelite and Internet – yep, Hams do that, too. Far more than most ‘techies’, seeing as how Hams have a direct path of communication whereas your typical man on the street needs a few middle men to make use of a sattelite. And the Internet is as much a part of my shack as my Icom or Kenwood radios. Ooops, dropped a couple of brand names, didn’t I … :)
      I truely hope you are able to see that sometimes the glass *is* half full…


  17. We have a lot of good replies here (as well as the standard naysayers, apparently) and I’ll put on the pile of great sites. To get started, find your local ham club, and take the practice test for the tech license about 50 times. By the time you’ve done that, you’ll have a pretty good grasp on the rules and should be able to pass the test no problem. Most of the tech level test is common sense, such as how to handle emergency callers (the answer is “shut up and ask if they need help”). Once you have your tech license, hang out with your local club, operate, then see if you want to continue. The real fun (for some) begins with the general class and talking to people *thousands* of miles away. last week I talked to someone in Zagreb, Croatia from my home in Indiana. 4,800 miles with a wire antenna hanging on my house. It feels awesome.
    73! Reechard: K8DXB

  18. My number on reason why hackers should consider getting licensed. People resources. Over the years I knew a former engineer with ATT, another that worked at Bell labs as an engineer Radio/electronics professionals, University physics professor machinists welders, on and on. Not to mention a huge collective junk box or tool library. Perhaps the hackaday “suits” should get some to volunteer to be correspondent that specializes in Amateur radio/ bobby electronics

  19. Ham radio has always been an interest of mine right from childhood, I remember when I used to dream about talking to far off contacts while reading about it in the library, I sometimes think of it as the first “internet” albeit for more technically oriented people especially the home-brewers. 10+ years later and I’m still dreaming of being a Ham, this post is a reminder to me that I have to get to work on making that dream a reality!

  20. “At the risk of reinforcing a stereotype, I’ll
    note that many of us got into ham radio as
    teenagers in part because we were a bit socially
    awkward”. Even though I’m no more a teen the risk with me is zero because I TOTALLY fit that stereotype. You can’t get more introverted than me (or so I think). That’s part of the reason why I am more comfortable chatting online than meeting people face to face because of that electronic barrier between me and the other person, and I think ham will work for me in that regard. I don’t know why but I am usually in my element when I’m all alone. My mother is always encouraging me to change though, she says it is important that i learn how to comfortably interact with others (or maybe she is afraid I won’t bring her a daughter-in-law and eventually some grandchildren *shudders*. I know she wants what’s best for me). But then I am also learning for myself that you can’t do without others and some level of social skills is necessary.

    1. FWIW I’ve noticed that through my 20s and 30s a lot of social anxiety just goes away by itself. You just stop worrying about stuff so much. Try to relax, and think “what’s the worst that’s likely to happen?”.

      1. It is a good mantra, which I tend to use at times, though maybe not as much that context as other ones.

        I myself tend to prefer to not interact in real life, though that is a bit more related to being too interested in and curious about the world around me to not get bored talking to most people. Some people seem to prefer killing time instead of using it. :-\ The end result is that I tend to spend a lot of time on my own searching and reading, in my teens often in the school library or the local library and later on on the Internet (which, if you ask me, is the best thing since written language).

        Maybe I am a bit off balance, and should see people more, but at the other hand I feel way more happy and productive reading in on new stuff and expanding my universe.

        Speaking as an introvert, this TED Talk was a bit inspiring to me:

        Getting back to hams, I have not been a ham myself, and tend to not sit still on one interest for too long, but I still have found memories from a few years of irregular visits to the local ham club where I grew up and some of the hams there (a few of them gone by now). They very nearly got me hooked. :-)

      2. Oh, and how can I forget SM4CYY, Göran Johansson (now silent key), let us borrow his Collins tube receiver (I believe it was an 51S-1) for a year or so. It had an outstanding sensitivity, I am still amazed that I could routinely pick up Shannon VOLMET with just a wire along the ceiling in the basement room we had the rig in. Aah, good old days.

  21. I have a ham license, yet I don’t really use it beyond some of the side benefits it offers. And I’d never use it on a resume due to the fact its an over played hand by many people who want a tech related job and blabbing on about ham radio gets annoying really fast to a lot of people who see it as a glorified cell / telephone anyway. Don’t get me wrong, It’s great when the hiring manager is a fellow ham, but the reality is that most are not even technical people to start with, let alone ham operators! Your milage may vary. Also a lot of the hams I know think their license makes them an authority on everything to do with electronics and beyond, yet I have taken the tech and general exams and they really aren’t that hard. The ARRL exam manual I had even said not to try and understand questions, just “remeber the the answers”… and thats really all you have to do. But again, there are certainly guys that know their stuff.

    One of the best comments to an over zealos ham operator I ever heard was when I was preparing to a take a course on antennas offered by Georgia Tech and I myself had just started in the eletronics field. The ham operator assumed the professor was a ham as well, due the the fact “he plays with antennas all day”. The professor replied with a enthuastic “NO, If I were a dental hygienist, do you think I would want to clean peoples teeth as a hobby?” – Priceless…

    I now understand what the professor was saying. Electronics used to be my #1 passion as a hobby. It’s not as much fun to fire up that soldering iron at home or pour over schematics when you do it for a job all day. So hacking stuff for fun is one thing, doing it for a living may just turn your off to it when it’s other peoples projects you’re working on!

  22. “At the risk of reinforcing a stereotype, I’ll note that many of us got into ham radio as teenagers in part because we were a bit socially awkward. I suspect that this is something that many hackers can identify with. You can make a lot of good friends in ham radio.”

    I can relate to this for sure. My age at the time of writing is 18 years old. I got my first license just a few days before my 16th birthday.

    I have had an interest in electronics since I was probably around 5 years old, and it is generally easy to make friends in amateur radio.


    To the people that say that radio waves should be unregulated:
    That makes absolutely no sense! Many rules are in place to prevent chaos and make things run smoothly.

    Having anarchy on the radio waves would make them virtually unusable.
    I don’t agree with many of the restricted freedoms in this country, but that really has nothing to do with radio and is a topic for a difference discussion alltogether

  23. After recently taking my Technicians test at age 47 I truly believe if you can not pass that test you have no business owning a radio. It really isn’t that hard and as previous people have said take the practice tests enough you almost can memorize the answers. With all of the technology available to Hams now on so many avenues it is surely a fun time to have an operators license, it can really be a ticket to modding and hacking.

  24. I listen to much music and radio so I don’t have the ham radio on much, but when it starts getting ugly outside nothing beats the local repeater. Spotters are giving a (pun) blow by blow description of whats coming down and when it’s all clear. Nothing like narking on tornadoes.
    Even if you don’t get a license, find when and where hamfests occur. From Dayton to a local tailgate you will never fail to find tech that is useable what ever turns on your light.
    I have gotten many audio and music things even at our little gathering at the end of summer. 73’s KC9ICS

  25. I’ve been a licensed amateur radio operator for the last three years. I was very fortunate to have been invited to participate in the local amateur radio club even before I was licensed. The then-club president talked me into taking the exam after finding out I had been interested in radio since childhood. We have a great group of guys and girls in our club with a wide range of skills. We have retired military and law enforcement officers with tons of commercial on-air experience, some great tinkerers and makers, and a fair number of “appliance operators” as well. Interests of club members range from EMCOMM to DX to digital modes to homebrewing to Echolink to, well, all different corners of the hobby. I am now president of the club and am excited to see how the group has grown in the time I’ve been involved.

    A lot of the success of a club depends on the motivations and attitudes of the members. I am very lucky to live in an area where there is a strong interest in the hobby. We are in a remote area where amateur radio is sometimes the only way to communicate. We offer an 8 week class where we teach all the material presented on the Technician exam. It is relatively easy to memorize the answers, but we want radio amateurs that actually understand the theory and the regulations. We also have a healthy relationship with the county EMA, who graciously host our meetings at one of their facilities and have helped us source equipment in the past. Like any other hobby, ham radio is what you make of it.

  26. I’ve always found that ham radio seems was just IRC/usenet for the older generation. I work in telecom and I don’t even know anyone under 40 that entertains the idea of getting licensed, and even been laughed at for suggesting it. I don’t want to seem antagonistic, just that when people say they can talk to someone anywhere in the world.. it’s like, cool. I can skype conference 25+ people without FCC regulations and make it public or private, share files, do anything. It’s going to be hard to interest the newer generations when most of the kinds of people that would have become hams in the 70s and 80s are all on reddit instead and without buying equipment and getting a license to do it. I can usually interest people when I talk about SSTV or weatherfax, maybe we should transmit tweets!

    1. The funny thing is, there are younger folks that are getting into ham radio despite all the competition it has. I personally know a number of people that got their licenses in their teens or younger, as well as one that is in his twenties. As for Twitter, I know that some hams use it to send radio node status reports, and there is one site I use occasionally that can send posts made there to a user’s Twitter account if they have been linked. Yes, there is the perception that it is expensive, but I can say that after being a ham for 22+ years, I have spent more in the past three than I did the first 19 combined, and with the new Chinese made commercial radios being such a low cost item, it’s not as true as it used to be.

      >________________________________ > From: Hack a Day >To: >Sent: Sunday, October 6, 2013 3:44 PM >Subject: [New comment] Guest Rant: Ham Radio — Hackers’ Paradise > > > > >analogical commented: “I’ve always found that ham radio seems was just IRC/usenet for the older generation. I work in telecom and I don’t even know anyone under 40 that entertains the idea of getting licensed, and even been laughed at for suggesting it. I don’t want to seem ant” >

  27. I had a ham license (had, because I dont pay my subs any more and its lapsed) in the UK. I’m a G7L series which as they ran out of G7 class licenses quite a few years back will date me :)
    I got into it at 16 because I was really interested in the potential of computer comms in the 80’s. The internet hadn’t happened then so we could just see the *potential* forming but only massive phone bills to bbs’s and accoustic coupler modems for commercial offerings but with some great demoscene bbs boards to render yourself penniless at the mercy of your phone provider with.
    Early on I built a rtty transciever and learned to tune it with lissajous figures on my scope and hook it my amiga, how to make a antenna and impedance match it, built a qrp tranciever, had a monstrosity of a AR88 valve receiver that I loved and it seemed nobody else could drive etc. Great fun. Then came packet radio, I had a PK87 tnc and later built my own baycom that I still have somewhere. With my 1/4 watt 4 channel radio and indoor antenna I could get onto the local node and be connected, and also the early tcp/ip nodes, I had a account on my local ip node that stored my mails for me etc. I enjoyed some sstv stuff with genlocking stuff with my amiga and writing a test card for a atv repeater, but didnt have the space for an array to get into eme (moonbounce). I was recrystalizing commercial two way sets by then to get cheap hardware and using a modified cb to listen in on 10m etc (cobra 148gtl, who would have known they’d just not added the extra digit to the pll programmer to restrict it, classic for tinkering with but deaf as a post at the lower end if you tweaked the if stage for 10m).
    Then it got popular with the middle class talking heads,and they discovered that they could just go splash out thousands at the yaesu dealer, take a course that guaranteed their passing in a weekend of scotch drinking with friends and have a 100w directional yagi on a shop bought yaesu rotator on a giant tower that they could use to flatten any lesser plebs in the way of their packets. Almost everybody I knew just ran commercial gear. There was no hacker ethos amongst them, just middle aged men talking about their day as some sort of crap chatline.

    The repeaters for voice were all full of what we called squeakies, which were people geographically close to the repeater, with a handheld they’d found or stolen, jamming it with music or rants or stuff. We’d call them trolls now. The repeaters were unusuable especially around big cities.
    Then the internet and linux happened to me, and I’ve never been qthr since.
    I do often wonder about getting out my certs and seeing what license it gets me (I’m in france now), I presume as cw was dropped I have the higher class, as I had to do the rf theory and practice level exams originally. The irony is I can read 10wpm, and use a iambic or a pump key, just never got myself up to speed and took the test. Too interested in vhf stuff. But then, the net has scratched many many itches with regards to hackery and learning. Maybe too many and its a phase best left for history.

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