• Becoming a Ham Radio Operator

    What is Ham Radio? Amateur Radio (Ham Radio) is a popular hobby and service in which licensed Amateur Radio operators (hams) operate communications equipment.Although Amateur Radio operators get involved for many reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology and operating principles, and pass an examination for the FCC license to operate on radio frequencies known as the "Amateur Bands." These bands are radio frequencies reserved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use by ham radio operators. Read More
  • Be a SANDARC Member Club

    The San Diego Amateur Radio Council, Inc. (SANDARC) is a countywide organization comprised of Amateur Radio Clubs from all parts of San Diego County, working for the betterment of Amateur Radio.  SANDARC affiliated clubs present a unified front and have a means to exchange ideas and activities in the spirit of fraternity for which Amateur Radio is so famous. The objectives of the Council are to combine opinions, ideas, and strengths of the various clubs; to assist the affiliated clubs in promoting the welfare of the Amateur Radio fraternity; and to encourage activities that will benefit the art of Amateur Radio. Each affiliated club is represented by two delegates and/or alternates at each of the Council meetings (4 per year). These delegates nominate and elect the officers of the Council and exchange suggestions on SANDARC activities. Implementation begins after a majority vote of the representatives present. Read More
  • SANDARC Events

    In an effort to increase the level of awareness of amateur radio within the public, member clubs participate in community events such as (but not limited to): Santee Street Fair Carlsbad Street Fair Distribution of ARRL study material to San Diego County Libraries, San Diego City Libraries, Carlsbad Library, and Escondido Library Some member clubs assist in providing license training for local Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) through the various area fire departments Read More
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Becoming a Ham Radio Operator

What is Ham Radio?

Amateur Radio (Ham Radio) is a popular hobby and service in which licensed Amateur Radio operators (hams) operate communications equipment.

Although Amateur Radio operators get involved for many reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology and operating principles, and pass an examination for the FCC license to operate on radio frequencies known as the "Amateur Bands." These bands are radio frequencies reserved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use by ham radio operators.

 

Ham Radio History

In 1873, James Clerk Maxwell presented his theory of the electromagnetic field. In 1901 Guglielmo Marconi communicated across the Atlantic with a radio device using high power and giant antennas. To curb interference, Congress approved the Radio Act of 1912, which required amateurs to be licensed and restricted to the single wavelength of 200 meters. In 1914 the American Radio Relay League was founded by Hiram Percy Maxim, who found that messages could be sent more reliably over long distances if relay stations were organized. Transatlantic transmitting and receiving tests began in 1921 and by July 1960 the first two-way contact via the Moon took place on 1296 MHz.

Today we’re on CW, phone, SSB, FM, packet, TV, PACTOR, PSK31, RTTY, and other modes, bouncing signals off the ground, ionosphere, and the Moon. Hams are active in nearly every country of the world and from ages less than 10 years to more than 100.


Why should I get licensed?

Before you can get on the air, you need to be licensed and know the rules to operate legally. US licenses are good for 10 years before renewal and anyone may hold one except a representative of a foreign government. In the US there are three license classes—Technician, General and Extra.

Technician License

The Technician class license is the entry-level license of choice for most new ham radio operators. To earn the Technician license requires passing one examination totaling 35 questions on radio theory, regulations and operating practices. The license gives access to all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 megahertz, allowing these licensees the ability to communicate locally and most often within North America. It also allows for some limited privileges on the HF (also called "short wave") bands used for international communications.

LEVEL 1: Technician Class License

  • Exam Requirement: 35-question Technician Written Exam (Element 2).
  • Privileges: All VHF/UHF Amateur bands (frequencies above 30 MHz).
  • Limited operations in certain HF bands.

The FCC Technician License exam covers basic regulations, operating practices and electronics theory, with a focus on VHF and UHF applications. Morse code is not required for this license. With a Technician Class license, you will have all ham radio privileges above 30 MHz. These privileges include the very popular 2-meter band. Many Technician licensees enjoy using small (2 meter) hand-held radios to stay in touch with other hams in their area. Technicians may operate FM voice, digital packet (computers), television, single-sideband voice and several other interesting modes. You can even make international radio contacts via satellites, using relatively simple station equipment. Technician licensees now also have additional privileges on certain HF frequencies. Technicians may also operate on the 80, 40 and 15 meter bands using CW, and on the 10 meter band using CW, voice and digital modes.
Changes to the Technician Class rules as a result of the recent FCC rule changes are provided in the Technician Class rule changes supplement.

General License

The General class license grants some operating privileges on all Amateur Radio bands and all operating modes. This license opens the door to world-wide communications. Earning the General class license requires passing a 35 question examination. General class licensees must also have passed the Technician written examination.

LEVEL 2: General Class License

  • Exam Requirements: 35-question General written exam (Element 3).
  • License Privileges: All VHF/UHF Amateur bands and most HF privileges (10 through 160 meters).

The General Class license is the second of three US Amateur Radio licenses. To upgrade to General Class, you must already hold a Technician Class license (or have recently passed the Technician license exam). Upgrading to a General license--which conveys extensive HF privileges—only requires passing a written examination. Once you do, the entire range of operating modes and the majority of the amateur spectrum below 30 MHz become available to you. The FCC grants exam Element 3 credit to individuals that previously held certain older types of licenses. Find valid forms of Examination Element Credit.

Amateur Extra License

The Amateur Extra class license conveys all available U.S. Amateur Radio operating privileges on all bands and all modes. Earning the license is more difficult; it requires passing a thorough 50 question examination. Extra class licensees must also have passed all previous license class written examinations. Learn More

LEVEL 3: Extra Class License

  • Exam Requirement: 50-question Extra written exam (Element 4).
  • License Privileges: All Amateur band privileges.

General licensees may upgrade to Extra Class by passing a 50-question multiple-choice examination. No Morse code test is required. In addition to some of the more obscure regulations, the test covers specialized operating practices, advanced electronics theory and radio equipment design. Non-licensed individuals must pass Element 2, Element 3 and Element 4 written exams to earn an Extra License. The FCC grants exam element 3 credit to individuals that previously held certain older types of licenses. Find valid forms of Examination Element Credit.

The HF bands can be awfully crowded, particularly at the top of the solar cycle. Once one earns HF privileges, one may quickly yearn for more room. The Extra Class license is the answer. Extra Class licensees are authorized to operate on all frequencies allocated to the Amateur Service.


Finding a Class or an Amateur Radio License Exam in Your Area

Exam Day

Exam sessions are conducted by volunteer examiners "VEs" working under the direction of the FCC. SANDARC does not charge for taking the exam. Other groups, such as the ARRL, do charge a fee for an exam.  At last notice, the fee was $15.   Contact the exam session administrator to determine the fee that applies to the exam session you plan to attend and to verify the session date and time. The FCC no longer automatically issues a paper license.  You will need to contact them and have one sent to you.  Not licensed? Find out why you should get licensed.

What to Bring:

  1. A legal photo ID (driver’s license, passport)
  2. If no photo ID is available, two forms of identification:
  • Non-photo ID/Driver's license (some states still have them)
  • Birth certificate (must have the appropriate seal)
  • Social Security Card
  • Library Card
  • Utility Bill, Bank Statement or other business correspondence that specifically names the person; or a postmarked envelope addressed to the person at his or her current mailing address as it appears on the Form 605.

3. Students may bring any of the above items and/or a school ID, minor's work permit, report card, or a legal guardian may present a photo ID.
 
4.  Social Security Number (SSN) or your FCC issued Federal Registration Number (FRN); VEC’s are required by the FCC to submit either your SSN or your FRN number with your license application form. If you prefer not to give your SSN at the exam session, then you may register your SSN with the FCC before exam day. Once you have a FCC issued FRN, you may no longer use your SSN on the application. For instructions on how to register your SSN with the FCC and receive a FRN, visit the FCC's FAQ page and the FCC's registration instructions page.  Please note that some exam teams will only accept a valid FRN on your application.  Check with your local exam team before exam day.

 5.  If applicable, bring either the original and a photocopy of your current
Amateur Radio license, or the original(s) and photocopy(s) of any  Certificates of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE) you may
 hold from previous exam sessions. If your license has already been
issued by FCC, the CSCE showing license credit is not needed. The
photocopy(s) will not be returned.

6.  Two number two pencils with erasers and a pen.

7.  A calculator with the memory erased and formulas cleared is allowed.  You may not bring any written notes or calculations into the exam session.  Slide rules and logarithmic tables are acceptable, as long as they're free of notes and formulas. Cell phone must be silenced or turned off during  the exam session and the phones' calculator function may not be used.   In addition, iPhones, iPads, Androids, smartphones, Blackberry devices and all similar electronic devices with a calculator capability, may NOT  be used. 

8.  SANDARC-sponsored exam sessions are FREE.  Other groups charge up to $15 to take the test. 

Practicing For Your Exam

The latest versions of the published license manuals contain CDs which contain all the questions in the current question pools. These question pools are required to contain at least 10 times the number of questions for a given test.

In addition to the license manuals, there are many websites dedicated to studying for your exam.  Several of these sites are listed below.

  • AA9PW.com
  • QRZ.com
  • EHAM.net
  • HamExam.org
  • HamStudy.org


 

BECOMING A HAM RADIO OPERATOR

Almost anyone can be licensed as an amateur radio operator. You can be of any age, female or male, and a citizen or non-citizen of the United States. Special arrangements are provided during the exam for anyone with disabilities so they can easily become hams as well. About the only restriction is that a ham cannot be a representative of a foreign government.

 There are currently three levels (or classes) of amateur radio operator licenses that one can presently obtain. In ascending order they are

  • Technician Class
  • General Class
  • Extra Class

You will meet other Hams who have Novice, Technician Plus, Technician with Code and Advanced licenses, but they are no longer issued.


Each level has an exam associated with it and the requirements for each level include satisfactory completion of all requirements for lower levels, i.e., you must qualify for the Technician license before the General, and the General before the Extra.