Ham radio, also known as amateur radio, is a hobby that involves using various types of radio communications equipment to connect with other people who share similar interests. Ham radio was first introduced in the 1920s and has since continued to grow in popularity. Today, many people even use ham radios in conjunction with the Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) to create a global network of amateur radio stations.
It is estimated that nearly six million people around the world participate in amateur radio activities. However, it is incorrect to assume that a ham radio operator is an unskilled individual. Most people devote significant time to studying the inner workings of the equipment they operate. The “amateur” label simply indicates that they do not make any profit from their activities.
While some people use the hobby as a tool for socialization, many ham radio operators are also involved in public service communications. Emergency scenarios represent an opportunity for a ham radio operator to serve the public good while increasing his/her personal knowledge of electronics. Tracking vehicles using the Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) or engaging in severe weather spotting is another way in which a ham radio operator can put his/her skills to a productive use.
Regardless of location, the prospective ham radio operator is required to pass a licensing exam that demonstrates his/her understanding of key concepts involved in radio communications. This ensures that the activities of the ham radio operator will not interfere with the operation of other vital communications services that use radio frequencies. Once they pass the licensing exam, ham radio operators are assigned a call sign that is used to provide their transmissions with a unique identity.
After they are licensed, ham radio operators are not required to use any particular type of equipment. They may modify or home-construct any type of radio that meets spurious emission standards. Designing new antennas and hand building homebrew amateur radio gear requires substantial skill, but it presents an exciting challenge for electronics enthusiasts.
If you are interested in becoming involved in ham radio activities, it is best to look for a club of amateur radio operators in your community. Although there are many books and Web sites devoted to this hobby, learning from the experience of others is often the easiest way to develop the skills you need. In addition, club members from your area can help you learn more about licensing and local operating practices or provide information about entering radiosport contesting activities.