Ham (Amateur) Radio
By: Jessica De Hoyos

Many theories have been developed to credit the name “ham” but the one that rings most true is that, in the early days of radio, government stations, ships, coastal stations and the increasingly numerous amateur radio operators were all competing for time and signal supremacy on each other's receivers. Many of these amateur stations were very powerful. It was highly possible that two amateurs, trying to communicate while across town, could interfere or even jam all the other operator’s signals in that same area (7). "Ham” was the term used most often by commercial operators to refer to amateur operators who were jamming up the signals. It is possible that amateurs, unaware of the true meaning behind the term “ham” picked this term up and used it as a nickname for themselves (8). Ham or amateur radio, despite the name, has many capabilities. Amateur radios are unlike most modern communication devices. Ham radios do not require an infrastructure in order to be able to operate properly; an example of this kind of dependency is evident with cell-phones in how dependent they are upon towers in order to function properly (4). Due to the fact that amateur radios do not have to rely on such devices, they are very reliable in times of emergency and when needing to relay messages over long distances. These radios are used by all different types of people -- movie stars, missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, and truck drivers to name a few. Some “hams” are intrigued with this hobby because it can allow one the abilities to communicate across the country, around the globe, or even with astronauts in space missions (1). Others like to build and experiment with them. Computer hobbyists use amateur radio's digital communications opportunities to participate in “DX contests.” DX contests are competitions among ham radio operators in which the goal of the competition is to successfully connect to other stations within a specified area with the fastest speed and most efficiency. These competitions attract those who like a friendly competition and others simply like the convenience of this-kind-of technology (5).

History and Organizations.

Guglielmo Marconi’s discoveries of the wireless telegraph in 1899 (9) encouraged many experimenters, worldwide, to setup their own radio stations and begin communicating with one another over the air waves (1). Morse code was the first means of communication used when the development of ham radios initially emerged. Recently in the U.S., the FCC ended the necessary requirements for passing a code test to get a license. Learning and mastering Morse code had always been the most difficult and challenging part of getting a ham license. Although the FCC made attempts in the past to make these tests easier by reducing the speed-requirement of Morse code; this was still an obstacle that continued to prevent many from gaining an operating license. Finally dropping the code requirement in 2007 resulted in a mass of people interested in gaining one of new licenses (4). Although Morse code is no longer required to operate ham radios, some users still choose to use this older form of communication rather than regular voice communication. Organizations and clubs sponsor contests and events for operators: there are many national and international organizations and clubs that support amateur radio operators. One of the organizations more widely known in the U.S. is the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) which was founded in 1914 (5).

Amateur Radios in Space:
Astronauts first took ham radios into orbit in 1983, this sparked the beginning of communication between astronauts in space and their families, kids in
school, and others on land while continuing their mission in orbit (2).
Ham radios have since been on more than two dozen other missions. The radios were also used to communicate during emergencies if the shuttle was ever in distress
. Most amateur radio satellites are called
OSCARS, which derives from the term Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio (1).

Cost and Operation:
The cost for using and operating an amateur radio is usually quite cheap, which is another appealing quality for those interested in taking-up ham radios as a hobby. Basic study materials, used as aids in passing the FCC test, and getting your initial license costs approximately $40 or less (6). There are also local classes usually held for those wanting more interaction among other operators. There are three different levels of radio licensing:

  • Technician license
  • General license
  • Amateur-Extra license

Beginning with the first level, each license requires more knowledge than the next but in return grants access to more frequencies. Amateur radio volunteers can provide communications on behalf of public service agencies or other non-profit groups. Amateur radio is routinely used as an aid during the warmer months as part of SKYWARN. Some of the other well recognized emergency agencies that watch the skies and relay messages during severe weather emergencies include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Management Services (RACES), and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) (3).

Purposes and Uses Today
Amateur radios are used all over the world as a means of communication in forms of entertainment/leisure or in times of distress and emergency. According to Electronic design Magazine there are approximately 3 million ham operators worldwide. Roughly 680,000 of those hams are located in the U.S. (4). The ease and accessibility has lent most any kind of person the ability to learn how to operate and communicate with this device as well as relay important information whether in times of emergency or while in orbit on a space shuttle. Ham radios have allowed many to advance dramatically with technology in the communications aspect.

· 1.World Book, Inc. (2005). Reference. In The World Book Encyclopedia (Vol. 16, pp. 95-97). Chicago, IL: Scott Fetzer Company.
· 2. http://www.spaceflight.nasa.gov/station/reference/radio/
· 3. http://www.wb2lua.com/papers/Emergency_Com_Training_Course.pdf
· 4. Electronic Design. (2008, August 14). Good times for Ham radio. Academic Search Complete, 56, 38, 2/3p.
·5. Haring, K. (2004). Reference. In Encyclopedia of Recreation and Leisure in America (Vol. 1 & 2, pp. 17-20, pp. 179-181). Farmington Hills, MI: Thompson Gale.
· 6. http://wadsworthsales.com/hamradio.aspx
· 7. http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/history.html
·8. http://www.hello-radio.org/hello/what-is-ham-radio.php
· 9. http://earlyradiohistory.us/1899suc.ht