What is a Ham Radio Operator?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

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.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

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.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the EasyTechJunkie team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

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Discussion Comments


@MrsWinslow - My dad had a ham radio operator license, too! It's neat, isn't it? I had a friend who moved to Japan who sent me a message through a ham radio operator there.

It's basically just certain frequencies set aside for ham radio. Some of them actually use FM, just like the radio in your car, but at different frequencies than that would use. As you pass each level test, you are allowed to use other frequencies (higher ones, if I remember right).

The idea behind licensing is that it keeps yokels from cluttering up the airways! Unskilled operators can cause interference.

I've actually been thinking of getting a license myself. It seems like it could be particularly helpful in a disaster of any kind.


My mom, of all the random things, used to have a ham radio license. She's one of those people who's always taking up a strange hobby. One year it was ham radio, another year we all took tae kwon do lessons. Recently, she's taken up bird watching!

I remember that we studied Morse code together, although I think it wasn't necessarily required for the exam, and learned the phonetic alphabet. I remember she was a "technician" level, and then maybe did one level higher. (She was so proud when she passed that test! I think she went in to test for the lowest level and actually passed the next higher level test.)

But I was just a kid, and all I remember is that we had an antenna in the oak tree in the front yard. What kind of radio do ham radio operators use? And why would you need a license for a radio, anyway?

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