Why Ham Radio? Folks get involved with ham radio for all sorts of reasons. It is a magnificently diverse endeavor. It can be a fun technical hobby, a way to provide community service, or an important facet of family emergency preparedness. You may enjoy the local on-air social community, the excitement of international radio contacts, or the challenge of operating from the field or mountaintop with portable equipment. You may relish building your own circuits and antennas, experimenting with digital communication modes, or learning and mentoring others in their own efforts to become amateur radio operators. No matter your initial motivation, I hope you will explore at least a few of the multiple facets that ham radio offers, learning and growing your expertise along the way. But first, let’s see how to get your ham radio license from the FCC.
FCC Licensing: To become a ham radio operator you must obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC is the federal governing body overseeing the Amateur Radio Service, known colloquially as ham radio.
The FCC currently issues three different amateur radio license levels, or classes: (1) Technician License Class, (2) General License Class, and (3) Extra License Class. The Technician License Class is the introductory level license and it must be earned first. The General License Class is an intermediate license level that may be earned after Technician Class. The Extra Class license may be earned following General Class.
What’s the difference among these license classes? Transmit frequency privileges. The FCC license grants you the privilege of transmitting on a range of frequencies that have been allocated specifically for use by the Amateur Radio Service. As you move up in license class from Technician to General to Extra Class the range of frequencies on which you may transmit is expanded, with the Extra Class license granting full utilization of all Amateur Radio Service frequencies. But the introductory Technician Class license offers a fantastic set of frequency capabilities right from the git-go!
We’ll return to the matter of frequency use, but let’s consider the practical matter of getting that Technician Class license.
License Examination: Each license class is earned by passing an examination that tests your knowledge of amateur radio rules, regulations, operating procedures, and technical topics. A pool of exam questions has been established for each license class, and your examination will be comprised of questions drawn from the question pool. Each question pool is revised on a four-year cycle. As of this writing, the last Technician Class question pool revision was affected July 1, 2014 and it will be valid until June 30, 2018. The question pools are released to the public for the development of study materials and for individual examinee study and practice.
The current Technician Class question pool contains 426 questions, each a 4-response multiple-choice format. That is, after reading the question you select the correct answer as A, B, C, or D response. The Technician Class exam is comprised of 35 questions selected from the question pool. You must obtain a minimum score of 26 correct responses, or 74%, to pass the exam.
There is no longer a requirement to demonstrate competency in Morse Code for any license class exam. Very simply, you must pass the multiple-choice test to get your ham radio license.
The question pools are formulated by the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC). The exams are administered across the US by Volunteer Examiners (VEs) who have become certified and are sanctioned by the FCC to maintain the question pools and to conduct examinations. The VEs are licensed hams who volunteer their time and service to administer the examinations and help others become licensed.
Where will you find an examination session? In more populated areas of the US there may be multiple exam sessions offered each month by various ham radio clubs or at ham radio events. In less densely populated areas the offerings may be less frequent and you may have to travel a bit to attend. You can search for upcoming listed and scheduled VE exam sessions at the web sites of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), or you can find the contact information for a volunteer examiner in your state with the W5YI organization, at the URLs below.
Many exam sessions do not require any advanced registration and will state “walk-ins allowed.” Other sessions may require advanced sign up, so check the information closely or contact the VE in charge of the exam session.