February 27, 2021, 07:09:16 am

Getting your Ham Radio License

Started by Stonewall, January 03, 2021, 12:42:35 am

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Stonewall

January 03, 2021, 12:42:35 am Last Edit: January 03, 2021, 12:46:27 am by Stonewall
Why and how I got a Ham Radio License (today):

Like most people, at some point I owned a set of walkie talkies as a kid. I was always intrigued and interested in being "the radio guy", probably because I was always into the military scene and the guy calling in air strikes always seemed to be the most important dude. When I joined Civil Air Patrol in 1987, I earned the Radio Operator Permit, or ROP card. This was required in order to be involved with Search & Rescue, and there was no way I wasn't doing that!



In the Army, I spent a short stint as the radio telephone operator, or RTO, but it was CAP that had me always fiddling around with these radios. In the mid-90s I purchased my first hand-held radio for use in CAP; then a I got a mobile/base station to mount in my pick-up truck. But all through this, I never had a Ham license; I was covered under CAP's communications program. I even entered into the Communications specialty track in CAP, which means I know a little bit more than others. In the late 90s I ran CAP's National Capital Wing's weekly net control station (NCS) for a couple years. NCS's is something you'll learn about when studying for the exam.

So, with that background and a minute or two of your life wasted, here's why and how I got my Ham Radio License:

Why? Well, because I always wanted to. It was things like 9/11 and disasters like Hurricane Katrina where I often heard stories of Ham Radio Operators being the "link" across the country, but I never really knew why or how. Fast forward to Christmas Day 2020 where, in Nashville Tennessee, an RV turned IED blew up, shutting down telephone lines. Well, it just so happens a friend down there was ahead of me on the quest to own a ham radio. With the lines down, he switched on the small hand-held radio he purchased earlier in 2020 for this very scenario. That was it, no more waiting around.

Earlier in the year I had already bought ARRL's Ham Radio License Manual to study, which I thumbed through off and on for several months. But on Christmas Day, following the explosion, I logged onto the computer and searched "ham radio prep." Sure enough, there's a website called https://hamradioprep.com/. I checked it out and decided to throw $35 toward their online study and test prep program. It's actually only $25, but for $10 more you can get the General Level test prep, too. There are three levels of Ham Radio Operators: Technician, General, and Amateur Extra. I plan to test for the General level in the next month or so. You can do as many practice exams at ARRL's Exam Review for Ham Radio's site as you want.

Here's the thing, the questions and answers to the exams are open to the public. They give them to you in the book! You can print them up and they are identical to what is on the test - they tell you this! I believe you could study and pass the test with maybe six hours of prep, if you're a good test taker, which I am not. Since I had the book for several months, I had probably already studied 10-15 hours using the book only. Then with the online study program, I went through the 10 modules and quizzes, then pretty much kept on taking the 35-question practice exam and their 10-question randomly generated quizzes.

What I don't like is that it's just a test. Take the test and bam, you're a licensed ham radio nerd, but it teaches you nothing about what or how to do ham radio stuff. One of the guys testing with me asked, "so what now?" Seriously, what? I plan to visit one of the local Ham Radio Clubs in the Dayton area once they start meeting back up. After all, the annual "Hamvention" is held every year just five miles from my house, except for 2020 - Year of the Covid. No, I don't plan on erecting a huge antenna farm in my backyard or getting a personalized ham radio license plate on my car, but I do plan on getting spun up on what this ham radio thing is all about and how it can benefit me, my family, and my community.

If you just want to know how to get your license, here's the Cliff's Notes version:

  • Buy the book and browse through it - all the questions are in the back for you to memorize
  • Find an online study program - I used https://hamradioprep.com/
  • Go through the 10 modules, which takes a few hours
  • Take the practice quizzes and exam several times to "memorize" the questions and answers
  • Find a place to take the exam (just use your zip code, nothing else), click here
  • It costs $15 to take the exam, that is all!
  • Pass the exam
  • Then figure out what to do next

I took the exam two hours away at a small Emergency Management Agency building in another state. All the Ham Clubs in my area weren't doing in-person exams due to Covid, but the place I went to was perfectly safe; we wore masks and I was less than six feet from someone for maybe five seconds at best. There were five other random people taking the test; a college student, a married couple decked out in matching RealTree™, a church guy who goes on missions and wanted to know how to use a radio, and a retired dude. I finished the exam in less than 10 minutes, but all I know is I passed. They didn't give feedback or your score. There are 35 questions and you can miss nine and still pass.

By the way, I picked up a dual band (VHF/UHF) hand-held radio on Amazon for $89.

Even "Mike Baxter" enjoys running Hams...


Eclipse

Your first act as a new ham was to commit BaoFeng?



CAPJOE

I have been a ham since 1989. My biggest problem with the new hams in the last 15 years is the ones that won't spend a little extra money to get the ARRL books that teach the material that you need to know to pass the test. When I got my license we had to learn all the types of electron tubes & their internal parts, how to understand the color rings on resistors and diodes, all basic formulas for how to build an antenna among many other things. Granted tubes gave way transistors and semiconductors.   Now most new hams get the test material books and memorize the test. When I was in school that was considered cheating and you got  big red 0 on your paper.  I don't understand why anyone would not want to learn more about ham radio than how to pass a test.
I am a Volunteer Examiner and Technician Class Instructor. My classes are 3 hours a week for 8 weeks plus homework. If my students try to memorize the test and not learn the study material they are not allowed to sit at our test session.

Spam

Quote from: CAPJOE on January 03, 2021, 04:52:37 amI have been a ham since 1989. My biggest problem with the new hams in the last 15 years is the ones that won't spend a little extra money to get the ARRL books that teach the material that you need to know to pass the test. When I got my license we had to learn all the types of electron tubes & their internal parts, how to understand the color rings on resistors and diodes, all basic formulas for how to build an antenna among many other things. Granted tubes gave way transistors and semiconductors.  Now most new hams get the test material books and memorize the test. When I was in school that was considered cheating and you got  big red 0 on your paper.  I don't understand why anyone would not want to learn more about ham radio than how to pass a test.
I am a Volunteer Examiner and Technician Class Instructor. My classes are 3 hours a week for 8 weeks plus homework. If my students try to memorize the test and not learn the study material they are not allowed to sit at our test session.

All I can say is, after the fall of civilization, you are the guy I want inside my gate here at Fortress Spam, helping rebuild modern life and civilization!  Why, the only thing to add to your class would be "Ape must never kill Ape"!

I grew up with an engineer dad (got his degree on the GI Bill in the late 40s) and he used to drill me on resistors etc. when I was a cadet. It really did help me later on when I was in electronics labs as an undergrad. You go, sir!

Stonewall, congrats! 

V/r
Spam

Stonewall

Quote from: CAPJOE on January 03, 2021, 04:52:37 amI don't understand why anyone would not want to learn more about ham radio than how to pass a test.
I am a Volunteer Examiner and Technician Class Instructor. My classes are 3 hours a week for 8 weeks plus homework. If my students try to memorize the test and not learn the study material they are not allowed to sit at our test session.

Clearly 2020 was a bad time to want to get involved with hams. One of the reasons it took me so long (3 decades) is because it is and should be a learning process. I never knew it was "just a test" until this year when I researched it on ARRL's site. My goal was to go to a ham club and get setup for success. None of the ham clubs were meeting so I began self study. I paid for Ham Radio Prep because it offered lessons on top of practice exams.

Just like one of the guys asked that took the test with me, "so what now?"

The studying for the test simply gave us answers to questions and really increased my vocabulary as well as taught me a handful of things in theory, but not practice. I plan to visit one of the local ham clubs for training and to get a hands-on appreciation for the hobby and application of the ham world.

Eclipse

January 03, 2021, 06:47:36 pm #5 Last Edit: January 03, 2021, 07:23:12 pm by Eclipse
Quote from: CAPJOE on January 03, 2021, 04:52:37 amI have been a ham since 1989. My biggest problem with the new hams in the last 15 years is the ones that won't spend a little extra money to get the ARRL books that teach the material that you need to know to pass the test. When I got my license we had to learn all the types of electron tubes & their internal parts, how to understand the color rings on resistors and diodes, all basic formulas for how to build an antenna among many other things. Granted tubes gave way transistors and semiconductors.  Now most new hams get the test material books and memorize the test. When I was in school that was considered cheating and you got  big red 0 on your paper.  I don't understand why anyone would not want to learn more about ham radio than how to pass a test.
I am a Volunteer Examiner and Technician Class Instructor. My classes are 3 hours a week for 8 weeks plus homework. If my students try to memorize the test and not learn the study material they are not allowed to sit at our test session.

This is what is referred to as "gate keeping" and is one of the primary reasons communities like ham are shrinking and will continue to shrink unless the attitude changes. 

"I don't understand why we can't get more young people interested in ham radio..."

"I passed my test and got a radio! Who can I talk to?"

"Sorry, you don't qualify for the kool-guys ham club as you didn't do it the way >we< want you to..."

The average operator today is not going to be interested in fixing disposable tech just
for the merit badges. It's a waste of time, and in most cases isn't even possible due to epoxied
integrated circuits, etc.

As a product of the "Devry Institute Of Pell Grants", I know my way around a multi-meter,
and was pleased recently when my son took a passing interest in electronics at the component
level, at least as much as teaching himself to solder.  However sadly I realized that while
no skill is "useless", per se, no one does board-level repair in the US, and those jobs evaporated
while I was still using up my student loans last century.

Hams treat using obsolete technology as a badge of honor - fine, everyone is entitled to their hobby,
but consider what the intention of ham actually is the next time you discourage someone from participating because they didn't do it "right".

Hint: It's not heating your basement with vacuum tubes.



HandsomeWalt_USMC

Putting aside the notion that one should even need a license to talk on a civilian radio, I simply don't give a [darn] about the finer points of how my radio works and why. I have people for that. Yes, even in my personal life. I have buddies who are radio nerds who enjoy all the minutiae of radio communications and are more than happy to program my baofeng/yaesu/whathaveyou and fix it when I break it.
I don't need to learn the intricacies of it. I need to be able to transmit on public use freqs and not be breaking some stupid FCC reg. I need to be able to use the proper radio with the proper accessories that I learned how to use from the geeks to transmit across the required distance and terrain.
Employment of any system by an end user does not generally require an in depth knowledge of why and how the system functions. Some of those same radio buddies of mine have gotten into shooting recently. They don't give a [darn] what the diameter the gas port is on their AR, or how to fix a broken extractor or swap a trigger. They don't need to care about that because they can come to me to fix their guns and learn how to employ them effectively.
HANDSOME SENDS

Semper Fidelis

"PRIDE IS CONTAGIOUS"

usaf_defender

I've been a ham for about 20 years and I think it's a great thing for cap cadets and senior members to do. In fact, CAP has a national level MOU with ARRL. In my wing, we kind of have a culture where seniors and cadets are afraid to talk on the radio. It's a strange thing. The result is choppy, incomplete transmissions because they're uncomfortable with it. God help them if they forget an "over" at the end of a transmission. The nice thing about amateur radio as opposed to cap comms is it permits social conversation over the air and I think disperses some of the stressors about talking via radio.

One of our flights has even expressed an interest in bringing in an Elmer to teach material for cadets to receive their ticket, which I think is a great idea. I'd love to see more CAP folks on the ham repeaters. Might break up the good old boy system in my state and bring some fresh air into the hobby.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

NovemberWhiskey

Quote from: HandsomeWalt_USMC on January 04, 2021, 08:46:32 amI don't need to learn the intricacies of it. I need to be able to transmit on public use freqs and not be breaking some stupid FCC reg.

Then honestly amateur radio is not for you. Outside of some increasingly-tenuous public service and EMCOMM purposes, the legislated purpose of amateur radio is to increase expertise in radio and encourage the development of new radio technologies.

If all you need to do is talk legally on the radio, then FRS, GMRS and MURS all offer V/UHF options that require no technical expertise.

To the extent that amateur radio is relevant to CAP, it's basically a STEM topic.

TheSkyHornet

Quote from: usaf_defender on January 04, 2021, 12:17:30 pmIn my wing, we kind of have a culture where seniors and cadets are afraid to talk on the radio. It's a strange thing. The result is choppy, incomplete transmissions because they're uncomfortable with it.

They're uncomfortable because peer and social pressures are a real thing, especially for teenagers. They don't want to look/sound stupid.

Throw in the fact that a lot of the radio junkies bore you to death with this intricate knowledge that sounds like it's astrophysics to the person just trying to understand what squelch is and why they need to know it, and chastise you if you accidentally say "over and out."

Eclipse

January 04, 2021, 03:17:17 pm #10 Last Edit: January 04, 2021, 03:21:08 pm by Eclipse
Quote from: NovemberWhiskey on January 04, 2021, 02:44:57 pmthe legislated purpose of amateur radio is to increase expertise in radio and encourage the development of new radio technologies.

Yeah, no. Certainly not per se.
https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/97.1

"§ 97.1 Basis and purpose.
The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:

(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.

(c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art.

(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.

(e) Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill."


You can argue expansion of "experts" is included, but its not the primary function as defined by the law.
The primary function is clearly building new operators, thus the low bar for entry.

Simply put, the users are the reason the tech exists, not the other way around. This point is often lost on
people who enjoy and are ensconced in the tech - no different then a car guy who disdains autonomous driving,
or a computer guy who thinks people should have to understand IP addressing before they can send an email.

It's also a primary driver in the shrinking community - that outside emergencies, it's an obsolete technology having long ago been replaced by the evils of commercial infrastructure.

Ham was long ago relegated to "hey, that's pretty cool" levels, along with CB radio.  If you make it harder to
participate, casual users will just disengage "OK, screw it, I'll just call Australia on the Skype for free...",
and you'll never get more "experts".

The way you grow the community is that you make the entry barriers as low as possible, which will include a lot of
unwashed casual users who just want to play once in a while.  The parallels to the UAV community in this respect are
pretty direct, and the results are essentially the same.



TheSkyHornet

Eclipse, you're speaking my language.

I have an interest in a lot of different technological areas. But they're hobbies for me. Call me an amateur, why don't you?

But, sometimes, it's like I can't play with the other boys because I don't have a radio bunker installed in my house. If I don't have an EF Johnson strapped to my hip with a palm mic slung over my shoulder like some of the other CAPSOC Radio Rangers, I'm not taking it seriously enough.

Heck, I can't even get into an ICS-300 because I don't take Ground Team training seriously enough for the Gods of the Auxiliary. New faces need not apply.

Stonewall

Quote from: Eclipse on January 03, 2021, 03:13:48 amYour first act as a new ham was to commit BaoFeng?


When a trauma doctor tells me to use X tourniquet, I tend to listen because they have credibility and don't want to waste time with explaining things. If I asked a Hawk Mountain Ranger Medic which tourniquet to use, they'll bore me to death with the pros and cons of 15 different tourniquets based on their experience on the Mountain.

If I asked a Ham God what starter radio I should get for my level and needs, I'd suck start my Glock two minutes into their diatribe on antenna gain and the difference between the flux capacitor and a variable capacitor.

So, for my first radio, I got the one my buddy in Tennessee used while his boots were on the ground in Nashville when the bomb went off. It worked exactly how it was supposed to when he needed it. Beyond that, at this point in my Ham life, I'm good.

PS: I've been to HMRS, I just enjoy poking fun.

Stonewall

January 04, 2021, 04:52:06 pm #13 Last Edit: January 04, 2021, 06:47:47 pm by Stonewall
Quote from: TheSkyHornet on January 04, 2021, 04:38:24 pmHeck, I can't even get into an ICS-300 because I don't take Ground Team training seriously enough for the Gods of the Auxiliary. New faces need not apply.

You're doing it wrong.

If you do a "CAP ICS-300" then you're likely only going to get CAP's vast experience and knowledge on the Incident Command System.

I did ICS-300 in 2018 and 400 in 2019, both through the Ohio Department of Emergency Management. I did 300 in Butler County and 400 in Franklin County, about 2 1/2 hours apart from each other and through different agencies. We had everyone from firefighters to meteorologists in the classes. Interestingly, there were one other CAP member in each of those classes that neither of us coordinated. I 100% believe there is a huge benefit to taking these types of courses outside of CAP if you can. They're free and the only thing you need is the prerequisites (100, 200, 700, 800).

The wealth of knowledge and experience from the instructor(s) was impressive. These people had been there, done that. From Hurricane Katrina to floods and earthquakes. This isn't to say the CAP-led ICS courses aren't valuable, but I expect you'll get a single perspective when everyone is from the same organization.

Stonewall

Quote from: Eclipse on January 04, 2021, 03:17:17 pmYou can argue expansion of "experts" is included, but its not the primary function as defined by the law.
The primary function is clearly building new operators, thus the low bar for entry.

Simply put, the users are the reason the tech exists, not the other way around. This point is often lost on
people who enjoy and are ensconced in the tech - no different then a car guy who disdains autonomous driving,
or a computer guy who thinks people should have to understand IP addressing before they can send an email.

It's also a primary driver in the shrinking community - that outside emergencies, it's an obsolete technology having long ago been replaced by the evils of commercial infrastructure.

Ham was long ago relegated to "hey, that's pretty cool" levels, along with CB radio.  If you make it harder to
participate, casual users will just disengage "OK, screw it, I'll just call Australia on the Skype for free...",
and you'll never get more "experts".

The way you grow the community is that you make the entry barriers as low as possible, which will include a lot of
unwashed casual users who just want to play once in a while.  The parallels to the UAV community in this respect are
pretty direct, and the results are essentially the same.

Couldn't agree more, Bob.

I got my Ham in 2021, but I've been a wanna-be CAP comm nerd for 30 years. Unfortunately, a lot of our own comm people scoff at people like me because we aren't as nerdy as they are or we don't life a "Comms Life."

I ran a wing's weekly net for two years in the 90s without a Ham license. I ran the wing's ongoing 3-decade's old Tactical Communications Exercise (TACCOMEX), all as a CAP-only radio operator. When I showed interest in getting a Ham license, I was usually briefed by the old dude with three radios on his belt with, "well, you need to show up to 15 meetings, attend our exclusive intro to ham class, go through the special new member initiation, get voted in, and prove that you're worthy by erecting a 400' antennas in your backyard." That's an obvious exaggeration, but to the guy wanting to get into ham radios, that's what it felt like.

Now that I have my Ham, I can go to the local club (when they start meeting again) and say "hey, I have my license, let's get me set up to talk to the ISS or help out if there's a natural disaster somewhere."

Eclipse

Quote from: Stonewall on January 04, 2021, 04:47:39 pmSo, for my first radio, I got the one my buddy in Tennessee used while his boots were on the ground in Nashville when the bomb went off. It worked exactly how it was supposed to when he needed it. Beyond that, at this point in my Ham life, I'm good.

I'd buy one of those as well, it works, and it's cheap.
Besides, it's a lot quicker to order dinner at a SAREx when the Chinese are already on the line!



radioguy

For those that are interested in radio, the FCC recently approved a $35.00 "processing fee" for new ham licenses and renewals.  They were free for many years.  The new fee also applies to GMRS licenses (down from $85, I believe).  (Both ham and GMRS licenses are good for ten years.)

Holding Pattern

Quote from: radioguy on January 04, 2021, 05:13:32 pmFor those that are interested in radio, the FCC recently approved a $35.00 "processing fee" for new ham licenses and renewals.  They were free for many years.  The new fee also applies to GMRS licenses (down from $85, I believe).  (Both ham and GMRS licenses are good for ten years.)

The fee is not yet active, so it is worth getting licensed NOW.

The technician test isn't hard if you have a basic understanding of circuit design and spend a day doing flashcard tests on hamstudy.

PHall

Quote from: TheSkyHornet on January 04, 2021, 02:59:20 pm
Quote from: usaf_defender on January 04, 2021, 12:17:30 pmIn my wing, we kind of have a culture where seniors and cadets are afraid to talk on the radio. It's a strange thing. The result is choppy, incomplete transmissions because they're uncomfortable with it.

They're uncomfortable because peer and social pressures are a real thing, especially for teenagers. They don't want to look/sound stupid.

Throw in the fact that a lot of the radio junkies bore you to death with this intricate knowledge that sounds like it's astrophysics to the person just trying to understand what squelch is and why they need to know it, and chastise you if you accidentally say "over and out."



They're afraid of the self appointed "Radio Police" which CAP seems to have more then their fair share of.
Make a simple mistake and they're on ya like a pack of Chihuahuas!

UWONGO2

Quote from: Eclipse on January 04, 2021, 03:17:17 pmHam was long ago relegated to "hey, that's pretty cool" levels, along with CB radio.  If you make it harder to
participate, casual users will just disengage "OK, screw it, I'll just call Australia on the Skype for free...", and you'll never get more "experts".

Actually this was even the case when I got licensed almost 30 years ago. Got my ticket, started playing around, and fortunately met some really awesome folks in a ham club. This guy talked me into getting a KPC3 because packet was "so much fun" and I kept trying to explain to him this internet thing I'd been using through the university, but I'm always game for nerd stuff so I joined in. I think both of us dropped out of packet a few months later when he also discovered the internet...

But... I did learn stuff about technology that I wouldn't have learned otherwise. When APRS became a thing that the internet hadn't dominated yet, having some packet knowledge was helpful. What I learned about GPS actually became helpful in my paying job, so it wasn't for nothing.

The good news is that the ham folks are still innovating and experimenting. Linking VHF repeaters with a UHF backbone turned into linking repeaters via microwave turned into linking repeaters via the internet. I suspect people who are willing to go through the extra hurdles of learning some basic RF & electrical theory are going to be the kind of folks who will like to play around a bit. That playing is just different than back in the day, instead of assembling radios using spare parts, it's now about how to utilize commercial equipment in interesting ways.

If all someone wants to do is pick up a radio and smash the release-to-listen button without a hint of curiosity how any of it works, then CB, MURS, and GMRS are ready and waiting for them.

Quote from: undefinedThe way you grow the community is that you make the entry barriers as low as possible, which will include a lot of unwashed casual users who just want to play once in a while.

As I said, there do need to be some barriers to keep the spectrum used for its intended purpose, but adjust those barriers as the times change. When I got my Tech No-Code back in the day, man the gnashing of teeth was thundering, but the change was necessary. Perhaps always a bit late, but it does seem as though the FCC and ARRL are making some good moves as there has been a surprisingly sustained steady climb in licenses:



It's probably not a coincidence the climb really got into gear when Morse code went away. I know amateur radio is pretty big in the "prepper" community, I'm not sure when that became a thing (perhaps around the same time?).

One of our squadrons that is partnered with a school just secured funding through the school to put together a ham shack with HF and VHF/UHF capabilities. While the squadron won't be able to use it for missions, they get to do kind of the reverse Stonewall, introduce them to using radio comms via amateur radio and hopefully hook them into joining CAP's comm program. Plus, the opportunities to talk on radios amongst themselves will be far more plentiful with ham gear (as in whenever they want using those cheap radios from home) compared to limited opportunities to talk on CAP comm equipment.

At the end of the day, as we learned with Katrina and even to a smaller degree with the recent bombing of an AT&T facility, the side effect of having an amateur radio community is having a group of folks who are readily prepared to communicate when the commercial infrastructure takes a hit. It's by no means the primary purpose of the spectrum, but it's there to be used when needed.