by K3WWP, John H. Shannon
Amateur radio is a hobby in which an individual can set up his or her own radio station, and communicate with other amateur radio operators (or hams) anywhere in the world. Actually, out of this world also, as several of the Space Shuttle astronauts are hams and have taken their stations into orbit to communicate with us back here on earth.
Who are hams? Anyone, male or female, from those under 10 years of age to those near or over 100 years old, from the ordinary person to the famous. Many well known personalities are or have been hams. I can think of a pro baseball player, Joe Rudi (NK7U); a Senator who almost became President, Barry Goldwater (K7UGA); a King, the late King Hussein of Jordan (JY1); a news anchor, Walter Cronkite (KB2GSD); radio personality/writer, the late Jean Shepherd (K2ORS); country music singers Ronnie Milsap (WB4KCG) and Patty Loveless (KD4WUJ), who enjoys working CW on 40 meters around 7110 kHz.
What do hams do? Many different things. Some enjoy building their own equipment; some like to talk on the air with other hams; some devote themselves to public service - helping out in times of emergency with their ability to communicate; some get on the air only for contests - competing to contact more hams than anyone else during a certain period of time, usually a weekend; still others are on the cutting edge of technology, developing new communications techniques and equipment. These are but a few of the many diverse interests within this fine hobby.
If you like to be recognized for your accomplishments, there are hundreds of awards available for doing various things in ham radio. Some of the more well known and prestigious awards include WAS, Worked All States for making a contact with each of the 50 states; WAC, Worked All Continents for contacting a ham on each of the six permanently inhabited continents; DXCC, DX Century Club for contacting at least 100 of the 330 or so currently recognized countries; USA-CA, USA County Award for contacting US counties in increments of 500 up to a special award for all 3077. Not all awards require so much effort. There are awards for contacting all the counties in a single state; contacting a certain number of members of a ham radio club; contacting a special event station which is a station set up to honor an event such as a Bicentennial, the Olympic games, etc. The list of awards is virtually endless.
There are many clubs ranging from local clubs involving only the hams in your town or city to huge worldwide clubs with many thousands of members. All clubs exist for hams to help each other in one way or another. Most, if not all, clubs are eager to help the newcomer to ham radio.
Ham radio is as diverse as life itself, and I could go on listing activities and interests for a long time, but don't worry, I won't.
If this brief description has whetted your appetite, your obvious question now is how do I go about becoming a ham? That has changed quite a bit over the years. At one time not all that long ago it required an ability to send and receive Morse code at 20 WPM, plus an extensive knowledge of electronic theory and amateur regulations to obtain full amateur privileges. Now it has degenerated to the point where anyone can gain those same privileges by simply memorizing a few questions and answers from a study guide. There are currently three classes of licenses - Extra which grants full privileges, General with fewer privileges, and Technician with limited privileges. Probably anyone with a 5th grade education can easily get a Technician license these days. Personally I'm glad I got my Amateur Extra license back in the days (1968) when you really had to study hard to earn it.
If you are serious about wanting to become a ham, and would like more information, one good source is the ARRL or American Radio Relay League. If you have any questions, I will try to answer them via Email.