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Ham Radio – Get a License!

Do you have an interest in becoming a Ham Radio Operator.  This page  has all the information you will need.

Why should I want to be a Ham radio operator? If for no other reason than in an emergency when TV and commercial radio is knocked out, Ham radio is the primary means of communication. Lives are saved, injured people are taken care of and property can be secured. Imagine the earthquake that happened in the bay area of California in 1989 happened in your community. Nothing worked there and then except Ham radio and CB (Citizens Band). Would it be the same in your community? Probably.  You say let the CB’ers do it. My friend there are only 40 channels for CB and in an emergency every one of them will be busy and they are only good for a very limited range. Now if that is not a good enough reason to become a Ham, how about meeting new people? There are over 700,000 Ham Operators in the US, not to mention foreign countries. Maybe you are a former Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman. Remember being able to call home free when you were away from home. You called your switchboard and they called a local Ham radio operator who contacted someone they knew in your home town who called your wife or family and you heard their voices. I might have only been for a few minutes and you had to say “Over” when you were done talking but it still was great. That was thanks to Ham radio operators. Would you like to do that for a homesick GI? I’m sure you would.

All you need is a Ham radio license and some equipment. In the following pages you will learn how to get the license and what type of equipment you need. You will find out about some options you might never have known were there. So my friend, CQ, CQ, CQ, This is the first step and your first Ham challenge.

Would you like to become an Amateur Radio operator? It’s not difficult to do. Amateur Radio operators, often called “hams,” are licensed by governments around the world to use specific ranges of radio frequencies. The entry-level license in the United States, the Technician class, is all that is necessary for local routine and emergency communications. To obtain this license, you need only pass a 35-question multiple-choice written licensing exam for which all the possible questions and their answers are public information. You need not be a US citizen, though you must have valid photo identification, and there is no lower or upper age limit. Knowledge of Morse code is no longer required for any US Amateur Radio license. Though the license itself is free, there may be an examination charge of up to $15. License renewals, required every ten years, are free for most hams and do not involve an exam.

How to Prepare for the Technician-Class Exam

Note: Candidates for Technician Class licensing should be sure to use study materials designed for exams given after June 30, 2010. Exams given before July 1, 2010 were based on different pools of questions. There are many ways to prepare to pass this simple Amateur Radio examination. Choose the combination that works best for you:

Read a book:  You can obtain a review book (for exams given after June 30, 2010) and study on your own. Options include:

  • The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual, 2nd edition

  • Technician Class 2010-2014, by Gordon West WB6NOA

  • The No-Nonsense, Technician Class License Study Guide, by Dan Romanchik KB6NU

  • These and other books on Ham radio may be available at your local library.

Take a local class

Preparation classes for the Technician-class exam are available locally. You may prefer to meet for a few hours every week for a few weeks or to take a “cram” course that lasts only one day and ends with the exam itself. To find a local class, you can use the ARRL online search service. You might also find a local Ham and befriend him or her. Most Ham’s would be more than happy to “Sponsor” you.

There might also be a ham radio club in your area. Quite often these clubs will offer exam- preparation classes. Take an online class: You can take an online review course and study at your own pace. Take online practice exams: In support of any of the above preparation methods, you can also take free online practice exams that include all of the actual questions you can possibly be asked:

  • eham.net Ham Exams

  • AA9PW FCC Exam Practice

Taking the licensing exam

You must sit for the licensing exam in person. Licensing exam sessions are managed by Amateur Radio operators who are designated Volunteer Examiners (“VEs”) and are held nearly every week depending upon demand.

Once You Are Licensed

Once you pass the exam and your assigned call sign appears in the Federal Communications Commission online license database a few days later, you’ll be a licensed Amateur Radio operator! But you won’t necessarily know everything you need to know in order to operate skillfully and courteously, or to get the most out of your accomplishment. Listening to more-experienced hams is very good advice, but don’t choose a careless or ill-trained operator as your role model. The ARRL Operating Manual, 9th edition (or later), contains much sound information about good operating practices for hams.

Though there is no requirement that you own a ham radio, you probably will want to buy one – many new handhelds sell for less than $200 – so you can participate in ham radio when and where you wish. You may also find that you enjoy ham radio for reasons that go well beyond what you had in mind when you started.

Information about becoming a ham radio operator is also available from the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for Amateur Radio in the United States.

In California’s San Francisco Bay Area, ham radio clubs often present exam-preparation classes in the ARRL East Bay Section. See the ARRL East Bay Section Licensing blog.

Ham Radio Exam Courses

What is it?

  • Online courses for the ham radio license exams.

How long does it take?

  • Depending on your background and memory, most students pass easily after:

    • Technician (entry-level) class license exam: 10 hours

    • General class license exam: 20 hours

    • Extra class license exam: 30 hours

How does it work?

  • Like books, we provide study materials.

  • Like practice tests, we drill the actual exam questions and answers.

  • Our cyber-tutor tracks your progress and focuses on your personal weak areas.

  • It’s a powerful combination. Just ask our students!

What does it cost?

  • A 2-year subscription to the Technician course is $24.95. We cost about the same as the amateur radio license manuals, and we provide a lot more value.

Why an online course?

  • Better than amateur radio license manuals — our interactive question drill keeps you awake.

  • Better than practice exams — we teach the materials.

  • Better than amateur radio classes — available 7×24, whenever you want to study.

  • All you need is a browser. Nothing to download or install. You are free to login from anywhere.

  • Always 100% up-to-date with the latest question pool changes.

  • Our database of over 50 million question responses tells us where to focus your study time!

  • Why memorize the answers with practice exams, when you could learn about amateur radio!

How to get started in ham radio

Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting ready to use ham radio for survival communications:

  1. Decide which level of communications capability you need:

    • A Technician class license is useful mostly for local communications.

    • A General class allows you to talk all around the world.

    • An Extra class license has a few minor additional privileges, but nothing important for survival.

  2. Choose a target exam date. Assume you will need about 10 hours to study for the Technician exam. To get the General class license, you must pass an additional exam, so tack on an additional 20 hours to study for the General class exam. If you want the Extra class license, add on another 30 hours to study for the Extra class exam. The good news is that you no longer have to learn Morse code for any class of ham radio license.

    It sounds like a lot of work, but all of this studying is not a waste of time, as you are learning information that could someday save your life.

    I recommend that you try to average at least one hour every day, and more if possible. So decide how much free time you can devote to studying, then figure out when you could take the exam.

    Look up exam sessions in your area by zip code at http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-exam-session. (If you don’t see any sessions in your immediate area, expand your search to a wider area using the dropdown box to the right of the zip code.) Picking your exam date up front keeps you focused on studying.

  3. Create an account on this website. The HamTestOnline™ website is the most efficient way to get a ham radio license. It integrates study materials with question drill using the actual exam questions. So you are learning about the aspects of ham radio you need to understand, and at the same time preparing to get a high score on the exam.

  4. Subscribe to the desired courses. Everyone starts with the Technician exam, and most survivalists take the General class exam, as well.

  5. Stay in Study mode until your score bar reads at least 85% on each course. That will ensure that you are ready to pass the exams.

  6. Take the exams at a local exam session. Don’t be afraid to take multiple exams in a single session. We’ve had many students pass two exams in a single sitting. In fact, we’ve had at least a hundred students go from zero to Extra in a single session. Since they only charge a single exam fee (typically $15) no matter how many exams you take, taking multiple exams at once saves both time and money.

  7. Buy one or more radios. For example, Wouxun sells some nice VHF/UHF portable (handheld) radios for around $125. The Elecraft KX3 is an ultra-compact HF radio excellent for hunkering down or bugging out. Depending on the options you select, it costs around $1000. If that’s too much for your budget, you could buy a less feature-rich, used HF radio at local hamfest for around $200. To operate HF you’re also going to need some kind of antenna. If bugging out is an option, you might prefer something portable like the Buddipole.

  8. Find a solution for emergency power — emergency generator, solar panels, etc. If you live in a sunny area, solar panels will provide free power for decades. Without power, a radio is as useful as a rock.

  9. Use your radios until you are completely comfortable with them. Participate in your local ARRL Field Day and other ham radio contests. It’s amazing how much fun you can have while learning essential skills!

  10. When you’re not using the equipment, you might consider investing in EMP bags or a Faraday box for safe storage.

Which class do I need?

Technician

If you’re only interested in talking around town, you only need the Technician class license.

General

If you’re interested in emergency communications, you should have a General class license. While most emergency communications is local, that’s not always the case. For example, during Katrina, local communication within the affected area was often impossible, and some emergency crews communicated with each other by relaying messages out of the area using HF ham frequencies.

In an actual emergency, you’re allowed to use any means of communications at your disposal to get the message through. You don’t need any license at all. However, to be prepared for an emergency, you need to practice, and for that you need a license. HF communication can be challenging, and it takes time to develop the required skills.

If like most hams you are interested in talking all around the world on “shortwave” radio, you also need the General class license.

If you live on a boat and want to stay connected using ham SSB, you need the General class.

Extra

There are various reasons why some people decide to get the Extra class license:

  • They want to have highest class license and all the privileges.

  • It allows them to get one of the shorter call signs. In addition to being more prestegious, a short call makes it easier to work a pile-up.

  • Some of the best DX (foreign stations) are only available in the Extra segments.

  • Volunteer examiners must hold an Extra class license to administer the Extra class exams.

  • Why settle for silver when you can have the gold?

The license exams

There are no more Morse code exams for any class of ham license. There are still plenty of people using Morse code, and you are quite welcome to join them. You just no longer have to take an exam first.

All that’s offered now is three different written exams. They all cover the same topics — regulations, operating practices, electronics, propagation, antennas, and safety — but to increasing levels of complexity:

All exams are administered by volunteer examiners (VEs), generally a group of friendly hams from a local club. Exam sessions are held regularly all across the country. Look up exam sessions in your area by zip code at http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-exam-session. (If you don’t see any sessions in your immediate area, expand your search to a wider area using the dropdown box to the right of the zip code.)

Upon request, most VE teams will make accommodations for physical disabilities. For example, they can provide exams in Braille which include no figures for the blind. They can read the questions and answer choices aloud to those who have trouble reading.

Some exam sessions charge a small fee, usually no more than $15, to cover the costs of running the sessions.

What is the HamTestOnline™ website?

The HamTestOnline™ website provides computer-based, adaptive training for the ham radio license exams.

What makes the HamTestOnline™ website so special?

Logical order — Like a book, we present concepts in a logical order. Building from simple to more complex concepts promotes learning rather than memorizing.

Additional information — We provide information beyond the questions and answers, helping you to understand the concepts rather than just memorize the answers. (It is actually faster to learn the materials than to memorize the answers.)

Active learning — Like a random exam, we use repetitive question drill to keep you awake and interested. Active learning is more effective than passive learning because your brain remains engaged.

Actual exam questions — We drill the actual exam questions to prepare you for the actual exams.

Tracks your progress — Our special The Software that Knows You™ programming keeps track of your progress through the course and which questions are giving you trouble. Even if weeks or months pass between study sessions, we never forget.

Adaptive learning — Like a patient tutor, our “intelligent repetition” algorithm repeats each question optimally — ones that give you trouble are repeated sooner, while ones you answer correctly are reviewed later. It focuses your study time where you need it.

Question linking — Your response to one question affects the repetition of related questions. For example, if you always answer questions about Ohm’s Law correctly, all questions about Ohm’s Law will appear less frequently. Why waste time on a concept you have already mastered?

100% guarantee — We guarantee success. 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 refund the cost of your subscription. (Try getting a bookseller to make that kind of promise!)

Our refund rate is about 1%.

Does the HamTestOnline™ website simulate the actual exam?

Random practice exams are a terrible way to learn:

  • They don’t explain or teach anything.

  • They jumble all the material together with no respect for logical order.

  • They don’t give priority to unseen questions, so even after 100 practice exams, you may not have seen all of the questions.

  • They don’t focus on your weak areas. They repeat easy questions just as often as hard questions.

  • They encourage memorizing answers, not learning the materials.

Nevertheless, we do have random exams that simulate the actual exams. Once you have learned the concepts, you can use them to boost your confidence before the actual exam.

Does the HamTestOnline™ website replace books and courses?

We have everything you need to understand the materials and pass the ham radio license exams, and we encourage you to “study green.” However, if you feel the need to kill a tree, rather than purchasing license manuals that will be useless once you pass the test, we recommend the ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications as a comprehensive reference book. You will refer to it for years to come.

Does the HamTestOnline™ website use the actual questions from the VEC question pools?

The HamTestOnline™ website includes all questions from the latest ham radio written exam question pools. These are the exact same questions and answer choices you will see on the real exam.

The following question pools are currently online:

I’m a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It’s easy.

We always have the latest question pools online!

  • The new Extra class question pool (effective July 1, 2012) is online. The new question pool is slightly smaller, but about the same level of difficulty as the old one. We have removed the obsolete question pool from the system.

  • The new General class question pool (effective July 1, 2011) is online. We have removed the obsolete pool from the system.

  • The new Technician class question pool (effective July 1, 2010) is online. We have removed the obsolete pool from the system.

  • No question pools changed in 2009.

  • No question pools will change in 2013.

  • Industry Canada released new Canadian Basic and Advanced question banks in April, 2007. These updates were minor, reflecting some changes to the regulations and correcting a few errors. We have the new questions online.

Are all of these questions really on the exam?

The exams are drawn from the published question pools. Of course, you don’t know which questions will be selected for your exam, so you need to study all of them.

The FCC does not allow us to administer the actual exam online. You must appear in person so the volunteer examiners can check your ID and monitor to make sure you aren’t cheating.

However, most people don’t have to travel far. There are hundreds of exam sessions across the U.S. every week. Search for them by zip code at:

http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-exam-session

Hint: if you don’t see any sessions near your zip code, try one of the following:

  • Expand your search to a wider area using the dropdown box to the right of the zip code.

  • If your zip code is relatively new, use an older one nearby. The search tool’s zip code database might be slightly out-of-date.

Emergency and Disaster Communications

Amateur Radio’s support of the community in times of disaster is recognized and encouraged in the Federal regulations that authorize Amateur Radio in the United States. If you are interested in helping with local emergency radio communications, register in the Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®), a program of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). Membership in the ARRL is not required; any licensed amateur with a sincere desire to serve is eligible to apply to serve in ARES, however you must be registered. To register in ARES in other ARRL sections, see the national ARES Web pages.

Amateurs should also look for an opportunity to register as an ACS or RACES Amateur Radio operator. RACES is the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, a concept authorized in the Amateur Radio federal regulations that provides radio communications for civil-preparedness purposes. Registration in ACS and RACES is done with a civil defense agency, usually your city or county. ACS or RACES registration may give you status as a recognized Disaster Services Worker and allow you to participate fully in state and local government disaster drills and responses. Your local ham radio club will have information.

There are additional resources available to those interested in volunteer emergency communications.