getting licensed for ham radio

You might be asking yourself, why is this site called keØtlh? That, my friends, is my amateur radio call sign. Just like kmox, kshe, wgn, and all those commercial broadcasting stations (radio and tv), amateur radio broadcasters need to register with the FCC. Sounds scary, right. It’s not that bad.

First off, you only need to get licensed if you plan to broadcast in amateur radio bands. Several common types of radio communication don’t need FCC registration. CB, GMRS, and FRS radio are all ‘over the counter’ meaning you can buy these radios pretty much anywhere and use them freely. CB radios are popular with truckers (think Smokey and The Bandit), FRS and GMRS are your typical walky-talkies that have built-in channels.

You can also just listen to amateur radio without getting licensed. A common way to do this is with SDR (software defined radio). These dongles usually plug into a usb port and use your computer to ‘decode’ the radio signal. Look for a future post on SDR; it’s one of the first things I did with the hobby.

Becoming a licensed amateur radio operator opens up these boundaries considerably. When you pass the Technician class exam, you are given full access to 17 bands of frequencies about 30 MHz, ranging from just above shortwave up to microwaves. With the proper equipment, you can receive or transmit at any frequency within these amateur bands. Pass the General class exam, and you receive large portions of the 10 high-frequency bands in which you can talk with the world. Once you master the Amateur Extra exam, and you have an all-access pass to the entire amateur radio spectrum.

Licensing is necessary because handling radio waves carelessly can cause interference to others, damage to your equipment, and maybe injury to yourself. You need to learn the rules of the road; basic electronic principles behind radio waves, how they’re generated, radio propagation, dealing with interference, and safety. That’s why you need a license to get into the Amateur Radio Service, so your fellow hams know that their comrades-in-arms have the basic knowledge and skill to handle radio waves safely.

This may sound a bit scary and restrictive, but in reality it’s not. The tests are fairly straightforward and the question set is public knowledge so there’s no surprises in the test!! The Technician test is 35 questions covering a range of topics, taken from a pool of about 350 questions. I found a ton of resources online to help study, but this one by far takes the cake KB6NU’s guide isn’t the only one out there, but it hits all the possible test questions in an informative way.

Now that you’re all studied up and ready for the test, where do you go? The American Radio Relay League (AARL) is in charge of administering the tests and does so on a volunteer basis. To find a test near you check out There’s a few requirements to take the test; a small filing fee and registering with the FCC among them. The entire list is on the AARL site.

Well that’s all I’ve got for ham testing and licensing. I’ll dive more into the different bands and types of transmitting hams can do in a future post.

As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon.


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