What is Ham Radio?
One definition of Amateur (ham) radio:
Amateur radio operators who [transmit] over short-wave frequencies are called ham radio operators. The origin of the term is unknown. Ham radio is noncommercial, two-way transmission in which messages are sent by Morse code or by voice.
Interest in amateur [transmitting] arose as soon as the radio was invented by Guglielmo Marconi. Because amateur [transmissions] interfered with low-wave transmission of commercial and military communication, the United States government instituted controls in 1911. Ham radio enthusiasts were limited to the use of short-wave frequencies, which at the time was deemed to have limited potential.
After World War I, however, amateurs became active in experimenting, and by
1923 some operators achieved successful transatlantic transmission over short waves. Over the years amateur radio operators have provided emergency communication during natural and other disasters. After the great Mexico City earthquake of September 1985, ham operators helped get information about survivors to relatives in the United States. Amateurs are now able to use communications satellites to assist in [making contacts].
Amateur radio operators in the United States are subject to international and federal regulation. There are six classes of licenses. Competence in the use of International Morse Code and a knowledge of radio theory and regulation are required to obtain advanced-level licenses. There are restrictions on the power of transmitters, and some frequencies must be shared with regard for the needs of others.
The unlicensed amateur starts with a receiver to listen in on transmissions. [...] An antenna can be a wire strung outside a window or an expensive piece of equipment on the roof. Ham radio equipment can be purchased at electronics stores. Listening in gives the beginner the chance to learn how transmitting is done and a chance to practice Morse Code. Before [transmitting], an amateur must obtain a license. In the United States application is made to the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C. In Canada amateur radio [operators] are regulated by the Department of Transportation and in Great Britain by the Department of Trade. There are a number of handbooks to guide beginners who are preparing to take a licensing examination.
After obtaining a license the ham operator needs a transmitter. Kits for building them can be bought from electronics stores, or one can buy a ready-made model. Other necessary equipment includes maps of the world, an international time-zone clock or a time-conversion table, and a log book to record [...] activity. The log book is [no longer] a government requirement. An amateur [may] also have printed [QSL] cards giving his name, address, and station call sign. There are local radio clubs to assist members, and ham operators may also join the American Radio Relay League (A.R.R.L.) to get technical information and its [monthly] magazine, [QST].
Adapted from Compton's Encyclopedia. (c) 1993, Compton's New Media, Inc.