How to Get Your First Ham License
In order to operate on the ham radio bands and frequencies, you need a license. To get the license, you have to pass a test. That sounds difficult, but it really is not. The introductory license is called a Technician Class License. Despite the name, the test is not very technical. You need to learn the rules and regulations of operating a ham radio, and understand some of the procedures to be able to operate on the air safely, properly, and courteously. There are a few basic technical and arithmetic questions which are easily learned, but you no longer have to know Morse code.
So really what you need to learn to pass your initial test is little more than how to become a good ham radio citizen. The real learning begins after you get your license. Here’s how you do it:
- Study the material. (see below for study material suggestions)
- Review the questions in the back of the book or online.
- Take some interactive practice exams.
- Pass a proctored 35-question multiple choice VE exam.
- Get on the air and work the airwaves to experience the 'magic' yourself.
Learning the material
There are a number of ways for you to learn the basics and pass the test.
If you prefer a classroom setting, contact your local PIO (Public Information Officer) about the availability of local classes.
If you learn best by reading, there are two really good books we can recommend: The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual 3rd Ed., and Technician Class 2014-2018 study manual with Ham Study software 8th Ed. by Gordon West. The ARRL book is easy-to-read, but still quite detailed and it will teach you about ham radio as well as help you study for the test. Gordon’s book is not quite as comprehensive, but it will definitely help you prepare for the exam. It is best used as a textbook for a classroom session, but it will stand alone if you are good at self-study.
There is also a plethora of study material available from the ARRL.
For those like online training, one of the best places to go is http://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com/. There are other good online learning sites, but Wyoming’s ham community seems to like this one.
All of the learning methods noted above will cover all of the questions that will be on the exam. If you have a smartphone, there are several free review apps available. For the iPhone, try “Ham Tech,” or for the Android, take a look at “Ham Test Prep.”
Take the Exam
The license exam sessions are called VE sessions. This is because the actual session is conducted by VEs (Volunteer Examiners).
Most ARRL-affiliated Amateur Radio Clubs conduct exam sessions of a regular basis. Check the Clubs section on this website to find a nearby club. You can also look at the ARRL website and check their list of scheduled VE sessions by going to http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-exam-session/.
Get on the Air
Even after you get your license--which could be thought of as merely "a license to learn," you will probably have a LOT of questions. To find answers to your questions you should join a local club (see Clubs) and talk to the folks in your area who have been participating in ham radio for years. You will find they are an invaluable resource and can help you in ways that no mere book can do.
Join the ARRL
- Support the largest national voice for Amateur Radio in the US.
- Represent your hobby at the national level
- Produce educational and advancement materials
- Organize many 'on the air' events and activities
- Technical support resources
- Legal support for members
- Guidance on being the best ham you can be
- Monthly QST magazine- chock full of radio goodness
You can join or renew with the ARRL online, via their secure web site.
I do recommend you ask your club if they are setup to have you join or renew through them. Clubs bet a small fee back from ARRL for new and renewing members and as we all know any funds help our clubs.