Amateur Radio, also called "Ham Radio", is a radio service licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. Licensees may "talk" to any other ham radio operator anywhere in the world...and on occasion...out of this world, as almost all astronauts on board the International Space Station are also hams, and are radio equipped. Hams talk to each other for the purposes of chit-chatting, experimentation, assisting officials during the 500 Marathon and other activities, or assisting public safety personnel and relief organizations during times of floods, tornados, hurricanes, and other disasters.
The most common question asked is: "Is ham radio like CB?" Well, let's compare it to CB:
1. Amateur radio operators must pass at least a written test to obtain a license...higher class licenses require a test in sending and receiving international Morse code. CB operators do not.
2. Amateur radio operators are encouraged to experiment with different types of transmission modes. This may be voice, television, satellite, bouncing signals off the moon and back to earth, and computer interfaces, just to name a few. Hams may also build their own equipment. CB operators must use voice communications, and must buy and use an FCC-type accepted radio. Any alterations of CB radios are prohibited by federal law.
3. Amateur radio operators are limited to bands of frequencies, such as operating anywhere between 14.0 Mhz to 14.35Mhz, and may tune to any frequency between those two. They are also limited to a maximum of 1,500 watts of power. CB operators are limited to 40 specific channels, and are limited to a maximum of 5 watts.
Another question I get is: How did you get interested in it and how far away have you talked?
When I was 15, we lived in St. Louis, MO, and I was interested in meteorology. I bought a radio kit and put it together so I could listen to weather broadcasts from St. Louis' Lambert Field airport. One night, having nothing better to do, I tuned to one of the amateur radio frequencies and listened for a while. A friend happened to know a ham operator, and got us together. After showing me his radio equipment, he started talking to a ham in Germany. After a couple of minutes, he handed the microphone to me, and I've been hooked ever since. That ham's name was Ray Keller W0DU, a man I will never forget.
How far have I talked? From my house in Perry Commons subdivision, using a cheap, home-made dipole antenna in the attic, I regularly talk to hams in Europe and South America. I've also talked to hams in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Greece, and South Africa. Actually, I have talked to hams in 117 countries and counting from Perry Commons. In my 40 years of being a ham, my longest conversation was in 1969 with another ham in California. Not a big deal, huh? Well, he had his antenna pointed basically west, and I had mine pointed basically east. In other words, we talked literally "around" the world...not by pointing our antennas toward each other as you would expect.
I was first licensed in 1965, in Dalton, GA, and it amazed me how I could sit in my bedroom and talk to people literally around the world. I also learned a valuable lesson one evening when I was talking to a ham in Cuba. I remarked to him that I was watching an evening news program on TV that was showing an anti-American demonstration in the streets of Havana. His response was: "Don't watch that, Ken. People are people no matter where or in what country you live. We all want to live in peace and be friends. It's the governments that can't get along." And I have found that to be very true.
Another common question is: "How much does amateur radio equipment cost?" The answer here depends on who you wish to talk to and what type of communication do you wish to use. If you wish to talk to local hams or those on the International Space Station, you can get on the air for less than $150. If you wish to talk to hams around the world, you're looking at $1,000 and up. Those prices are for new equipment. Used equipment is also available from commercial vendors and current hams.
Interested in hearing more? Contact me.