So you want to be a “Ham”?

What Is Amateur “Ham” Radio?

Amateur radio, a.k.a “Ham” radio started over 100 years ago and is still popular today. It is one of the most wide spread and diverse activities you can find. Most people might look at amateur radio as that big box with glowing tubes that grandpa used to sit at for hours. It is much more than that. Amateur radio has participants from all walks of life and does not discriminate between age, sex, creed, color or any other factor. It is the one activity that is available to everyone, anywhere and you may never know who you find talking at the other end. Over the years there have been many famous people who were “hams” from royalty to actors, musicians, politicians and many others notable in history.

The number of hams in the USA is 755,430 active Amateur licenses as of February 2019.  There are over 700 hams here in Bonner County.  Many Hams love to build their own equipment and experiment with different types of technology. Amateur radio is responsible for the development of many different types of technologies now commonly used in many different types of industries. If building is not for you, there is lots of new and used commercially built equipment available. There are more different types of activities you can do with amateur radio than I can even try to list on this page. Activities range from talking to local friends on the VHF/UHF and microwave bands to talking to friends anywhere across the planet on the HF bands. There are many different modes from voice and CW (a.k.a Morse code) to dozens of different digital modes using a computer and radio. If outer space is your thing, there are several satellites available to amateur radio use including talking to the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). As mankind creates bases on the moon and planets, you can bet amateur radio will be there.

Whether you are just learning to get your license or have had your license for a while, you should check out your local amateur radio club. Clubs can be a wealth of information to help you out and answer any questions you may have. We encourage you to join your local club such as the BCARC. Clubs rely on your dues to maintain repeater equipment, web sites and other functions and projects the club is involved in.

Question Pools

In the United States there are several organizations certified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to administer amateur radio exams. These organizations are part of the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC). One role of the NCVEC is to establish the current question pool that is used for each class of amateur radio license. Question pools are good for a four year period. Questions may change or be deleted during the current 4 year period due to changes in Part 97 of the rules and regulations governing Amateur Radio in the US.  All current question pools with revisions and related graphics can be downloaded from the NCVEC site as well as many ham sites.

Classes

Amateur Radio license classes are given from time to time around our area and are a great way to get your license. Classes are generally run by local radio clubs as well as local high schools and community colleges. There are also businesses that may offer local and online classes for a fee (some of these can be expensive). Classes offered by radio clubs are generally free except for the cost of the book used in the class.

Check our Club Calendar and Club Updates for listings of any known new classes.

Getting A Book To Study

To start learning you will need to get one of the Amateur Radio License books that are available. If taking a class, you will need to find out which book the class is using so you get the same one. Although all the books in theory teach the same material, they will vary greatly on how they arrange the material within the book and how deeply they cover the material. One of the main titles to look for is the current “Ham Radio License Manual” by the ARRL. Another is the current “2018 -2022 Technician Class” by Gordon West.

Check your local book stores. If they do not carry those titles you can also order them online. Some books will come with a CD with software, support material and practice exams to go along with the book. Amazon.com and Ebay.com are good sources for new and used books. You can search for other book vendors online. Try to look for a book that has the current Technician question pool listed above. If you get an older version of a book with an older question pool, you will also want to download the current question pool and graphics to study from instead of using the question pool listed in the book.

Practice, Practice, Practice

To go along with a book, we would also recommend using any of the free online practice exam sites and even download one of the free practice exam programs if the book you got does not already include a CD with practice exam software. Some links for online practice exam sites are:

ARRL.org Practice Exams
DXZone.com Practice Exams
eHam.net Practice Exams
QRZ.com Practice Exams
HamExam.org Practice Exams

Free practice software titles include “Ham Radio Exam” and “Ham Exam Helper”. Most of them are for the Windows operating systems but you can also find them for other systems. You can look by searching the sites mentioned above or googling “ham software”. Be sure the software you find is using the current question pools.

Taking The Exam

Exam sessions may be sponsored by any number of radio and non radio clubs and organizations.  They may be sponsored by your local schools, churches, libraries and even your area Parks & Recreation Department.  Anyone can sponsor an exam session, but only a valid certified Volunteer Examiner (VE) Team can administer the test.  Although some exam sessions do allow for walk-ins, most require you to pre-register just so the VE Team has a head count of the number of each level of exam books and answer sheets they need to have on hand.

There are two fees associated with obtaining your license.  One fee is directly payable to the FCC (this fee was raised to $35.00 on April 19, 2022).  The other is $15.00 to the VE Team to administer the test. (See below)

The steps required are as follow:

  • Obtain your FRN (Federal Registration Number) – VECs and Volunteer Examiner (VE) teams should not collect the $35 fee at exam sessions. The FCC fee must be paid online directly to the FCC not to the VE team or organization processing the application form. VEC and VE team licensing procedures are unchanged. New applicants will pay the $15 exam session fee to the VE team as usual, and pay the $35 application fee directly to the FCC by using the CORES Payer FRN System (easier to use) or the CORES FRN Registration system (CORES – Login).  CORES payment system information.
  • Schedule your test with a VE Team. (Note that should you fail a test, the $15 fee will be required again when you retake the test.)
  • For the exam you will need to have a photo id such as a driver’s license or school ID card.  You will also need to know your FRN for the license paperwork.   You can bring a simple calculator (no programmable memories) if you need it.    The VE Team will furnish pens and blank paper for calculations.    No cell phones or other electronics are allowed while taking the test.
  • After you pass your exam, the Volunteer Examiner Coordinator will submit your information to the FCC for processing. Once the FCC processes your application, you will receive a bill via email to pay the $35 online using one of the FCC systems above. The $35 must be paid within 10 days or your application will be dismissed, so be sure to check your spam folder, too!

 

BCARC does not currently host a sponsored VE team.  The KARS club in Hayden, ID tests every month before their regular club meeting. You can go to their club web site for directions and times.    A schedule is listed at the bottom of their page.   For other dates and exam info check the links listed below for any scheduled exams in our area.

ARRL VEC exam search

W5YI VEC exam search

For the exam you will need to have a photo id such as a driver’s license or school ID card.  You will also need to know your FRN (Federal Registration Number – which can be obtained from the FCC website here) for the license paperwork.   You can bring a simple calculator (no programmable memories) if you need it.    The VE Team will furnish pens and blank paper for calculations.    No cell phones or other electronics are allowed while taking the test.

If you pass the Technician level exam, you can take the General level exam at no additional cost in the same session. You are encouraged to do so.

Your License

When you pass your Technician class exam, it will take as little as 5-10 days (longer depending on number of licenses being granted) for your new callsign to appear in the FCC database. You must see your license grant listed in the database before you can transmit on the radio. You will receive an email from the FCC showing your new license.  It will contain a copy that can be printed for framing and one for your wallet; licenses are no longer mailed.  You can look for your new callsign by going to: FCC Callsign Search.  If you already hold an amateur radio license and are only upgrading, you can start using your new General or Extra band privileges as soon as you pass the exam by appending “/AG” for General or “/AE” for Extra to the end of your existing callsign when using your new band sections before the change is listed in the FCC database.

Some friendly advice

I know that new hams are eager to get on-line.  However, I highly recommend that you WAIT before purchasing your first equipment. Find a club in your area and visit them.  Most clubs are more than willing to help.  Nothing is more discouraging than to spend a large sum of money only to find it doesn’t fit your needs or legal qualifications.  A common occurrence for many new hams is to confuse band with mode when seeking equipment.  The band is the frequency you are/will be allowed to use while the mode is the method of communication you are allowed to use.  For instance (hypothetical): as a new technician you are allowed to use the 40 meter band but only using CW (code).  If you purchase a transceiver that is only usable on 40 meters, and you do not know CW, you cannot legally transmit using it and possibly wasted your money.

Feel free to email any questions you may have to BCARC Club or its officers. Also feel free to drop by our club meetings.