What's Amateur Radio? *Editor: [email protected] 
*Revised 3:40 PM ET 1/2/97
*Why It's Called Ham Radio 
*How to Get Started in Amateur Radio 
*The US government has an Amateur Radio page, too! 
People who pursue the hobby of using a personal radio station to communicate, purely for noncommercial purposes, with other radio hobbyists, call it ham radio or Amateur Radio. They call themselves Amateur Radio operators, ham radio operators or just plain "hams."

You already know a little about the hobby--hams communicate with other hams, around the block, on a distant continent--or from an orbiting space station! Some talk via computers, others prefer to use regular voice communications, and some use the efficient and enjoyable 19th-century technology known as Morse code. Some hams help save people's lives by handling emergency communications following a natural disaster or other emergency. Some become close friends with the people they talk to on the other side of the globe--then make it a point to meet one or more of them in person. Some can take a bag full of electrical parts and turn it into a station accessory that improves their station's reception of distant radio signals. Some hams talk by bouncing signals off the moon; some hams talk via full-color, two-way TV.

A Hobby of Diversity

What types of people will you meet as a ham? If you walk down a city street, you'll pass men and women, girls and boys, and people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and physical abilities. They're office workers and students, nurses and mail carriers, engineers and truck drivers, housewives and bankers. Any of them might be a ham you will meet tonight on your radio.

If you drive your car on the interstate this weekend, you'll see people on their way to a state park, a scout camp, a convention, an airport or a computer show. The young couple going to the park to hike for the day have their hand-held ham radio transceivers in their backpacks. When they stop on a scenic hilltop for a rest, they'll see how far away they can communicate with radios no more powerful than a strong flashlight. (Tens or even hundreds of miles!) And those same radios will be very useful in summoning help or getting directions if their car breaks down or they get lost in following their hiking trail.

The father and son on their way to scout camp will soon be canoeing with their scout troop. After setting up camp, they'll get out a portable radio, throw a wire antenna over a branch, and get on the air. Aside from the enjoyment of talking with other hams from their campsite, their radios give them the security of having reliable communications with the outside world, in case of emergency.

The family driving to the ham radio convention will spend the day talking with their ham friends, including two they've never met but know quite well from talking to them on the air every week. They'll also look at new and used radio equipment, listen to a speaker talk about the latest ways computers can be used to operate on the Amateur Radio bands, and enjoy a banquet talk by a NASA astronaut who also happens to be a ham radio operator.

What else can you look forward to in Amateur Radio, in kicking around on the ham bands? You might catch yourself excitedly calling (along with 50 or more other hams!) a Russian cosmonaut in space, or a sailor on the Coast Guard's tall ship Eagle. You could be linked via packet radio--Internetlike computer-to-computer contact--with an Alaskan sled-dog driver, a rock star, a US legislator, a Major League baseball player, a soldier on active duty, a king. A relaxing evening at home could find you in friendly radio conversation with a ham in Frankfort, Kentucky, or Frankfurt, Germany--or both, at the same time. Amateur Radio knows no country boundaries, and brings people around the world together as good friends.

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