What Is Ham Radio All About?
April 29, 2014
I was about 7 or 8 when I got a birthday present of a set of CB radios, or walkie talkies, and it is the one childhood present I remember to this day. Along with my cousin Tom we spent the entire summer playing with them, and it was not until the bad weather in the fall set in that we started looking at how this stuff actually worked. By the next summer we had actually learned how fix, modify and improve the devices, with the help of a neighbor who was an electrical engineer.
We actually got to a stage where we managed to boost the range so that we could communicate from each other’s homes, and this was a breakthrough in a world before cell phones were even remotely common.
At about age 10 the two of us started to pool our savings to buy bigger and more advanced equipment, and at that stage we were introduced to amateur, aka Ham, Radio. With the help of our neighbor and with endless time spent nerding over books in the library, we started building and making our own equipment. That same equipment still exists, and some of it technically still works and I actually love looking at the stuff we built all those years ago.
So, to answer the question of this post, ham radio is essentially amateur radio that requires a license and therefore is one step up from CB radio. You do have to sit an exam to get the license, but this is not too difficult if you are really interested in this stuff anyway. It uses a designated radio spectrum used for private, non-commercial exchange of messages and data. The radio spectrum used is not used by government, emergency services or any other commercial entity, which makes it ideal for hobbyists and people that like experimenting. Essentially, as long as you understand how radio spectrums work and you know how to configure your equipment you cannot really do things wrong that interfere with any important communications.
It is a very simple form of communicating, but it is this very technology that has led us to the modern days of phone systems and cell phone technology. For my cousin, this early experience eventually led to a career with a large technology company where he spends much of his time on programming equipment and communications protocols for phone systems.
For me, phones are the ultimate fascination. I know how they work, but it never stops amazing me how well they work, and on what scale they do this. In many ways amateur radio enthusiasts have built a communications network that resembles the phone system. Many people in this area have built repeaters into their systems, which essentially allows for a much greater range.
The great thing is that anyone interested can get started with quite a small budget. Start off with some books and online resources that will prepare you for the exam. Once you have a license the sky is the limit. You can gradually build up your home radio equipment and even build it yourself to save money, have fun and really get to understand communications technology.