Amateur radio is a hobby that has managed to remain relevant, even with substantial advancements in “alternative” technologies. Here’s my first experience with starting out.
I’ve been interested in amateur radio for quite some time, but I never took the time to actually get my license. Unlike the Citizens Band, you must apply for a license and pass an FCC exam showing that you understand the basics of radio operation and FCC rules and regulations surrounding the amateur radio service. This procedure differs extensively from CB (Citizens Band) radio and unlike CB, amateur radio (HAM) is heavily regulated. That’s probably one of the biggest reasons why I never took the exam. I don’t feel like dealing with the head ache that is the FCC.
The purpose of amateur radio is also very narrow. There are two main functions of the service. One is to promote an understanding of radio operations, and from what I have been learning, a lot of discussions by HAMs are about amateur radio itself. The other purpose, and one of the main reasons why I decided to finally obtain my license, is that amateur radio operators are part of a network that can respond in cases of emergency. Even with all of the technology available today, amateur radio is still the last line of communication during a disaster. So long as your station as a backup generator, it’s possible to communicate with other stations that are operating.
Because of the heavily regulated nature of amateur radio, use is heavily policed. In some cases, the FCC itself monitors communications, but there are also numerous amateur radio operations that spend their time monitoring frequencies for unauthorized activity. It seems to be a major hobby for these people, and that’s the other main reason that I have been reluctant to get involved. If I wanted to deal with a bunch of stuck up people making sure the rules are followed to the letter, and getting violators into trouble, I would spend more time on Reddit. The Amateur Auxilliary are kind of like the Crimson Knights in .hack//Sign: a good idea with bad implementation that got out of control. Still, there is enough of a community of people who really just want to enjoy the hobby, and there is a solid emergency services community.
My goal is to help promote amateur radio and to reduce the government’s involvement in the hobby. The ultimate goal would be to develop a band, which allows selective communication and limited censorship, that is maintained and funded through blockchain technology.
The exams are pretty straightforward, especially for the technician license. There are sample tests available, and qrz.com is a great source for them. The advantage of qrz.com over other places to study is that you create an account for qrz.com and it stores your past test scores. The goal is to be able to consistently score over 85% when you take the practice exam. If you can do that, you have a good chance of passing the actual test. There are also a number of books available, including ARRL’s technician exam study guide.
At the moment, I’m studying for all three exams: the element 2 for the technician class license, the element 3 for the general class license, and the element 4 for the amateur extra class license. So long as you can pass each prior exam, you are allowed to take the next exam, so it is possible to go from having no license to getting the highest class of license right off the bat.
Courses are available for amateur radio, but they are usually limited to covering topics specifically to help pass the exam. There isn’t a lot of practical education in these classes. It would be great if the local HAM radio club could partner with local colleges to provide actual in depth courses. Actually getting on the air and starting conversations, messing with the radio equipment, etc is what I’m really needing. A lab would be great.
In any case, a few weeks from now, I’ll either have my license or I won’t. Then I can start meddling around. I also plan on writing a number of articles on the topic, both from a hobbyist point of view, but also through Politicoid, discussing the legal aspects of the hobby.