A Noble History
Nobody knows when Amateur Radio operators were first called "hams," but we
do know that Amateur Radio is as old as the history of radio itself. Not long
after Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian experimenter, transmitted the Morse Code
letter "s" from Newfoundland to England in 1901, amateur experimenters
throughout the world were trying out the capabilities of the first "spark gap"
transmitters. In 1912 Congress passed the first laws regulating radio
transmissions in the U.S. By 1914, Amateur experimenters were communicating
nation- wide, and setting up a system to relay messages from coast to coast
(whence the name "American Radio Relay League"!). In 1927, the FCC was created
by Congress and specific frequencies were assigned for various uses, including
Why A License?
Although the main purpose of Amateur Radio is fun, it is called the "Amateur
Radio Service" because it also has a serious face. The FCC created this
"Service" to fill the need for a pool of experts who could provide backup
emergency communications. In addition, the FCC acknowledged the ability of the
hobby to advance the communication and technical skills of radio, and to enhance
international goodwill. This philosophy has paid off. Countless lives have been
saved where skilled hobbyists act as emergency communicators to render aid,
whether it's an earthquake in Italy, a flood in India or a hurricane in the U.S.
Why Do They Call Themselves "Ham?"
Although the origin of the word "ham" is obscure, every ham has his other
own pet theory. One holds that early Amateurs were called hams because they
liked to "perform" on the air, as in" hamming it up." Another proposes that the
name came from the "ham-fisted" way some early Amateurs handled their code keys.
The easiest to accept is that "ham" is a contraction of "Am," as in Amateur. One
of the most exotic holds that "ham" is an acronym from the initials of three
college students who were among the first Radio Amateurs.
What Are The Amateur Radio Bands?
Look at the dial on a old AM radio and you'll see frequencies marked from
535 to 1605 kilohertz. Imagine that band extended out many thousands of
kilohertz, and you'll have some idea of how much additional radio spectrum is
available for amateur, government and commercial radio bands. It is here you'll
find aircraft, ship, fire and police communication, as well as the so-called
"shortwave" stations, which are worldwide commercial and government broadcast
stations from the U.S. and overseas. Amateurs are allocated nine basic "bands"
(i.e. groups of frequencies) in the high frequency range between 1800 and 29,700
kilohertz, and another seven bands in the Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra
High Frequency (UHF) ranges. Even though many Amateur Radio conversations may be
heard around the world, given the right frequency and propagation conditions,
Amateur Radio is basically two-way communication.>
What is Ham Radio ?
A retired military officer in North Carolina makes friends over the radio
with a ham in Lithuania. An Ohio teenager uses her computer to upload a chess
move to an orbiting space satellite, where it's retrieved by a fellow chess
enthusiast in Japan. An aircraft engineer in Florida participating in a "DX
contest" swaps call signs with hams in 100 countries in a weekend. In
California, volunteers save lives as part of their involvement in an emergency
communications net.And at the scene of a traffic accident on a Chicago freeway,
a ham calls for help by using a pocket-sized hand-held radio. This unique mix of
fun, public service and convenience is the distinguishing characteristic of the
hobby called Amateur Radio. Although hams get involved in Amateur Radio for many
reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology,
regulations and operating principles, demonstrated by passing an examination for
a license to operate on radio frequencies known as the "Amateur Bands." These
frequencies are reserved by the Federal Communications Commission for use by
hams at intervals from just above the AM broadcast band all the way up into
extremely high microwave frequencies.
Who's The Typical Ham?
Amateur radio operators come from all walks of life -- movie stars,
missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, truck drivers and just plain
folks. They are all ages, sexes, income levels and nationalities. But whether
they prefer Morse Code on an old brass telegraph key through a low power
transmitter, voice communication on a hand-held radio or computer messages
transmitted through satellites, they all have an interest in what's happening in
the world, and they use radio to reach out.
What's The Appeal Of Ham Radio?
Some hams are attracted by the ability to communicate across the country,
around the globe, even with astronauts on space missions. Others build and
experiment with electronics. Computer hobbyists find packet radio to be a
low-cost way to expand their ability to communicate. Those with a competitive
streak enjoy DX contests, where the object is to see how many distant locations
they can contact. Some like the convenience of a technology that gives them
portable communication. Others use it to open the door to new friendships over
the air or through participation in one of more than 2000 Amateur Radio clubs
throughout the country.