Welcome to Ham Radio!
by Christina Cunningham, KT1NA
and John Cunningham, W1AI
Congratulations, you've decided to get into ham radio! Here are some tips to help you get started.
Which exam to take
If you have never held a ham radio license (or your license expired more than two years ago), you must start by taking the introductory level (“Technician”) license exam.
How far you go beyond that depends on what you plan to do with your new hobby:
- If your only interest is local communications, the Technician license is all you need.
- If you are interested in emergency communications, the General class license allows you to handle a widespread disaster. If you are a survivalist/prepper, read Ham Radio for Survivalists to find out why the General class license may be right for you.
- If talking around the world without wires sounds like fun, you'll want the Extra class license to get the most out of your new hobby.
Read Which exam to take? for more detail on the three license classes currently being issued, and which exams are needed for each level.
How to study for the exam
There are many ways to study for the exam — online courses, books, audio tapes, in-person classes, random practice exams, but we think HamTestOnline™ has the best study method, study materials, customer support, and guarantee in the industry:
- Smarter than practice exams — we teach the materials, so you learn, not memorize.
- More effective than books — we track your progress and use intelligent repetition to focus on your weak areas until they aren't weak any more.
- More flexible than classes — online 24x7, study when you want, at your own pace.
- All you need is a browser. Works on all platforms. Login from anywhere. Nothing to download or install (so no risk of viruses).
- Always 100% up-to-date with the latest question pool changes.
- Free trial, so you can make sure that our teaching style fits your learning style before you buy.
- 100% satisfaction guaranteed. If you fail an amateur radio license exam after preparing on the HamTestOnline™ website, or if you are dissatisfied with our service for any reason, we will cancel your subscription and refund what you paid for it.
- Very few products receive 5-star reviews from 97% of their customers. This is one of them!
We've helped tens of thousands of people pass these exams, and we've learned what works. Read and follow the advice in our Study Tips article to make the most effective use of your study time.
It's not going to take you as long as you think. Depending on their background and memory, most students are ready to pass with flying colors after:
- 10 hours study for the Technician exam.
- 20 hours study for the General exam.
- 30 hours study for the Extra exam.
We recommend that you average at least 1 hour per day in Study mode. At that rate, most students can pass all three exams within 60 days!
Note that many of our students pass more than one exam in a single exam session. Not only does it get you on the air faster, but it saves you in exam fees, as for one single session fee, they allow you to keep taking exams until you fail one (not likely with our course!) or pass all three.
Where to take the exam
Good news! You no longer have to travel to the nearest FCC field office to take the ham radio exams. Instead, you will take your exam at one of the thousands of volunteer exam sessions held across the country and around the world each month.
It's a great idea to choose your exam date before you start studying, as a looming date is an excellent motivator to sit down and study every day.
Click Where to take the exam? to find an exam session near you!
You can study for and pass multiple levels in one exam session. Plus, you get your studying over with, and you pay just the one exam session fee, woot woot!
Check out Christina's Story. Using only our courses, she passed all three levels (Technician, General and Extra) at one exam session and has >no< math skills (her words ), so she skipped all of the math, and got through the courses faster!
Mind you, I'm bragging on the website, not Christina - she points out that she couldn't have done it without the courses and their intelligent repetition!
We have heard from many subscribers who have also passed all three. Here is our Study Tips article, which I encourage you to read before you begin. It's got 11 tips to help you use your subscription to the utmost benefit, getting you ready to pass your exam in the fastest, easiest way possible.
Once you have completed your study preparation, FCC regulations require that you attend a local volunteer examiner (VE) session in person to pass the exam(s). You can find local exam sessions by entering your zip code here - Where to take the exam. Follow the prompts, and be sure to enter your zip code and expand the search to 25 or more miles.
I recommend applying for an FCC Registration Number (FRN) before you take the exam. Here is the link for registration. And here is the link for registration information. You will bring the FRN to your exam session, thus eliminating the need to give your SSN at the session. You will also need your government issued ID (driver's license, etc.). If you want your license mailed to you by the FCC, make sure you set your paper preference to yes, otherwise, you will receive everything by email.
The FCC license is free and is good for ten years. Most volunteer exam teams charge $15.00 per exam session. You can take more than one exam per session, and still pay just the one fee. Right up to Extra, if you wish (more on that below).
We encourage you to seek out and join a club in your area. Most clubs have members who are excited about helping newcomers get started. Their members are diverse, from housewives to preppers, to lawyers, nerds, you name it, there's a ham like that :)
These members are known as “Elmers” and will be a great resource for you. They can advise you on how to get on the air, what radio to buy, etc. Here is the URL to search for local Radio Clubs in your area - http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club. Be sure to enter your zip code and expand the search radius to 25 miles. You can also go to Google and search for Ham radio clubs in your city.
Eham.net is a great go-to source for new hams New to ham radio?. You can find many used radios available at bargain prices. Try looking on eham.net/classifieds/ and reading their online classifieds. You can find reviews on eham.net as well Product reviews! QRZ.com is another site where you can find a lot of information.
Another valuable source of information for beginners can be found on the Yahoo Ham Radio Help Group" - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HamRadioHelpGroup/
You do not need to purchase a radio before beginning your studies. You can, if you’d like, and you can listen all you want. You cannot transmit until you are licensed, and then only on the frequencies that your license will allow. What will it cost? It is difficult to give you an approximate cost to set up a station because there is such a wide range of equipment and antennas you could use.
An inexpensive way to get started is with a Handy Talkie (handheld) radio. I personally own a Baofeng UV-5R, you find them for under $30.00 at Baofeng on Amazon. (The company recently changed the brand to Pofung, so if you see that name, same thing). It's a great start. Radio, battery, desktop charger, belt clip, wrist strap, rubber duck antenna, manual and a earpiece/mic. Forget the manual that comes with it, very confusing. Go to Miklor and get the manual, and lots of other great info on the UV-5R, as well as the Chirp software. I do suggest to get a USB programming cable and download the Chirp software which makes setup of the memory frequencies a breeze. Also, a longer antenna is important. A good one is Harvest RH-775 retractable antenna. It's great to have a longer antenna that will allow you to fit your radio in a "go" bag with the longer antenna still on!.
If you want other accessories,you can add the extended battery, the battery eliminator (fits in car power outlet), and a car top magnet mount antenna. You can also add a handheld microphone. If any of the links don't work, they may have sold out. When you search for like equipment, just be sure that you are buying an accessory that will work with your UV-5R (watch for UV-5R+ - these are not the same for batteries!). You can change out the earphone/mic that came with it to a clear earpiece with acoustic tube (looks like the ones secret service would use).
For getting on the air, here’s where you can find it all The ARRL Operating Manual for Radio Amateurs. It’s the most comprehensive guide to Amateur Radio operating everything you need to get involved, get active, and get on the air. Each topic has been written and updated by experienced hams. They are happy to share what they have learned so that you can get involved too.
If you're looking for a reference manual to keep in your ham shack (the room where you operate your radio) we recommend The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications 2017.
Good luck with your continuing studies! Let us know if you have any questions about studying with the HamTestOnline™ web study course.
Please shoot me an email when you pass, I love reading exam success stories. Don't forget to let the Volunteer Examiners know how you did it!
We look forward to helping you study for the test so that you can pass the exam and begin your Ham Radio career!