What is required to become a HAM?
You must first acquire a license to transmit a radio on the HAM bands. No license is required if you are just listening, so you can get started immediately!
To obtain a license, you must first pass a test. There are currently three levels of licensing. They are Technician, General, then Extra. Each level builds on the previous with knowledge required to pass the test, as well as increasing levels of operator privileges.
Once you take the test and pass, the FCC will issue you a call sign, and you are then off and running.
An excellent website to get ready for your test is Ham Test Online. This is a paid service that teaches you all that you need to know to pass any level of exam. It mixes test questions with the real information behind each and keeps track of what you learn in order to focus on your strengths and weaknesses as you study.
An excellent study guide to prepare for the tests have been developed by Dan Romanchik (KB6NU). The Technician and General study guides are a free download!
BCARC endeavours to offer one free technician license class each year, generally in January. Check back to our website to find the dates and location.
Do I need to learn Morse Code to pass the test?
No! The Morse Code requirement was dropped from the exams years ago. But learning Morse code is great fun, and opens up another means of available communication. Transmitting and receiving Morse code is perhaps the simplest, and often the most reliable mode of radio communication when band conditions are not favorable for voice, or digital communication methods.
What kind of radio do I need, how expensive are they?
You can obtain a simple handheld radio which can transmit and receive on the VHF and UHF bands for short ranges for less than $35. Spend $20 more to get a decent sized antenna (which increases range) and you can quickly get into the hobby. Many people get their start this way. These make great backup radios to keep in the car or around the house for emergencies.
From here, the sky is literally the limit on what kind of radio you can purchase. A good multi-band radio which can transmit and receive on the majority of the frequencies available to a HAM can be obtained for around $1000. Transmiting power, and specific features can quickly increase the price.
Where can I get more information?
The ARRL is the National Association for Amateur Radio. Their website contains a vast amount of information and resources to assist the new HAM.