-- Ham Radio FAQ --

Amateur radio is a BIG topic. It encompasses a broad spectrum of technology, ideas, and opportunities for those who participate. Magnifying Glass and FAQ sign

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What is Amateur Radio?
  • A government allocation of radio frequencies specifically for the amateur radio service.
  • Amateur radio operators are licensed by the FCC.
  • A hobby in which the participant does not have a pecuniary interest.
  • A place to experiment and communicate with radio.
  • Amateur radio operators are not broadcasters. Our communications are two-way in nature.

The FCC's Amateur Radio Page

Is Amateur Radio still relevant?

Yes. Amateur radio operators can communicate with each other when other forms of communication fail. This is extremely important when disaster strikes.

The hobby also allows for experimentation with radio.

Who becomes an Amateur Radio Operator?

Amateur radio operators come from all paths in life. Some are doctors, lawyers, farmers, ranchers, students, retirees, and individuals from every type of vocation and profession

Our common bond is an interest in one of the many technical and/or social aspects of amateur radio.

What do Amateur Radio Operators do?

Licensed amateurs use their radio skills in a variety of ways. Some operators are very social and have regular radio conversations with other operators locally, nationally, or even worldwide.

The amateur radio community holds many "contests" throughout the year. Sometimes called "Radio Sport", these contests allow the competitive amateur and the casual operator the chance to make as many contacts as possible on the amateur radio bands. These events are a good opportunity for the licensed amateur to hone their on-air radio skills as well as to gain a better understanding of radio propagation.

Some radio amateurs are very technical in nature and use their license to experiment on the frequencies that are allocated to the amateur radio service. These experiments might deal with new antenna designs, how radio waves propagate under different solar conditions, or building and testing new transceiver hardware and software designs. For these individuals, the amateur service is a license to learn.

Many operators participate in volunteer service involving radio communications. These events include providing communications for parades, bicycle races, or your local Turkey Trot. As an example, WARS members provide weather spotting for the Weld County fair.

Some radio amateurs further their training and get involved with emergency and disaster communications. Skywarn and ARES are two programs that some amateurs become a part of. Learn more about emergency communications at the
WARS EmComm page.

How can I get involved?

If you are new to the hobby and would like to get licensed then visit the WARS Get Licensed page. The process for becoming a licensed radio amateur is not as hard as you might think. You do NOT need to know Morse code and the test is multiple choice. You can do it!

Licensed or not, your local radio club is a great place to meet fellow radio enthusiasts and learn all about this great hobby. Visit the WARS Club Info page to find out about our monthly club meetings and membership information.

Isn't amateur radio technology old and out-dated?

Absolutely not. Remember, an amateur radio license is not just a license to operate a radio. It is also a playground for experimenting with the latest and greatest that technology has to offer. And many hams do just that!

  • Hams are building their own digital voice networks. For instance, the Brandmeister Network is completely built by hams and has over 15,000 users connected at any one time.

  • The M17 Project is building a completely open hardware and software digital voice radio platform. The radio will use Codec2 which is developed by amateur radio operators.

  • To Infinity and BEYOND. Then there is space. Amsat is amateur radio in space and licensed amateurs design, build, operate, and communicate with our very own satellites.

  • We do tend to like our older radios as well but they do have limitations. Those limitations can often be overcome with new technology.
    A Digital Crystal -- video -> FT101ZD digital display
This high tech stuff means amateur radio is expensive, right?

While it is true that there are some stations that cost in excess of $10,000 or more, it is not the norm. Most hams have modest stations that include a few radios and modest antennas. The cost for this type of station is under $2000.

However, you can easily enjoy the hobby of amateur radio with a budget of $100 or less. There are ways to communicate using just your computer, like Echolink, and there are now many $50 radios that will allow you to communicate on your local repeaters. Some of those repeaters can connect to other repeaters using a variety of VOIP protocols including Echolink, IRLP, AllStar, and others.
It can be enjoyable on any budget!

Is Morse Code still being used?

Yes. It is still quite popular and even though it is not required to get an amateur radio license, many ham radio operators want to learn and use Morse code as it is a very efficient means of communication.

FIY... Morse code is often referred to as CW among radio operators. CW stand for 'continuous wave' and refers to the type of radio transmission used to send Morse code by radio amateurs. More at:

Some operators are learning on their own by listening to audio courses and practicing online. Chuck Adams, K7QO, offers a free audio code course located at:
K7QO Morse Code Course

For a free online course, many hams have found success with:
Learn CW Online

If you would like a mentor to be your guide and coach you along the journey of learning the code then check out CW Academy. The group offers 8 week classes to help you learn the dits and dahs. Find out more at:
CW Academy webpage

What are Q codes?

Q codes are shorthand for radio operators. Originally used by telegraphers before the days of radio, the Q codes were adopted by amateur radio operators.

The ARRL has a nice PDF with the most common Q codes and with a bonus phonetic alphabet as well.
Common Q codes from the ARRL

What is a call sign and what are they for?

All licensed television and radio stations in the USA are issued a call sign by the FCC and this includes amateur radio stations. For most commercial broadcasters, this is the 3 or 4 letters that they are required to say every so often to identify the station. Some examples that you might be familiar with in the Colorado area are KOA, KCNC, or KUSA.

The amateur radio operator must also identify on a regular basis. In fact, every ten minutes while the amateur is on the air he/she must either say or send the station's unique call sign on the frequency being used and at the end of the transmission on that particular frequency. In summary, a call sign is the unique identifier for a particular station.

The format of call signs for the amateur radio service is different from other radio services. Ham radio call signs in the USA have a prefix of one or two letters, then a single digit between 0 and 9 (which identifies an operators call district - see map below), followed by a suffix of one to three more letters. All call signs in the USA will start with the letters A, K, N, or W.

A call sign's format is noted by the number of letters before and after the number. Here are a few examples:

  • KD0UJK - a 2x3 call sign - pronounced as "2 by 3"
  • WD0HDR - a 2x3 call sign
  • N0JME - a 1x3 call sign
  • K6VPE - a 1x3 call sign
  • AC0YV - a 2x2 call sign
  • K0OJ - a 1x2 call sign
  • AA0M - a 2x1 call sign
These are all valid call signs although the last three, AC0YV, K0OJ, and AA0M, are only available to Extra class amateur operators.

A newly licensed Technician class operator will receive a sequentially picked 2x3 call sign from the call district that matches the applicants address. For Colorado, the call district is 0, and the issued call sign will be something like KF0VDQ.

Many hams take advantage of the availability of vanity call signs from the FCC. For a $35 fee, a licensed amateur can apply for a vanity call sign from the FCC. More info at: FCC Amateur Call Sign Systems

You can research amateur radio callsigns and find out the last issued call signs from all the call districts at: AE7Q's US Callsign Assignments page
RadioQTH.net has some tools that are useful for searching and sorting available callsigns: RadioQTH Callsign Lookup Tools
And you Extras can find out which 1x2 and 2x1 callsigns are becoming available at:
AE7Q's Query tools main page

The Callsign District map file has not loaded. Hmmmm.....

US Callsign District Map

Where can I find out about a particular ham?

The FCC's Universal Licensing System search page can help you find out who holds a particular callsign.
FCC ULS Search page
Many hams place information about themselves on the website QRZ.com. It is the most popular site for looking up licensed radio amateurs and many hams list their email address on their personal page as well as provide a bio about themselves.

-- 'Amateur' = 'Ham' Radio --

In case you were wondering, Amateur Radio and Ham Radio are one in the same.
Here is one explanation of how the term Ham operator came to be...
The term "ham fisted" was used in the pre-radio days of the telegraph to poke fun at Morse code operators with poor sending skills.
When the amateur radio service was created, professional radio operators used the term to describe these new radio hobbyists and experimenters.
Amateurs embraced the name and eventually the original meaning of the term lost most of it's negative connotation.

A pig