Amateur Radio enthusiasts know that there’s a lot of knowledge and training that go into being a successful Amateur Radio operators (hams). Before you can get on the air, you need to be licensed. The rules for earning an Amateur Radio license vary depending on which country you live in. You need to know the rules to operate legally. You also need to know how to operate safely and you’ll need some knowledge and training to operate successfully. Getting licensed is a long standing tradition for hams. US licenses are good for 10 years before renewal, and anyone may hold one except a representative of a foreign government.
In the US Amateur Radio is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the Communications Act of 1934. It is also subject to numerous international agreements. All Amateur Radio operators must be licensed. In the US there are three license classes—Technician, General and Extra. Most countries have similar licensing structures with increasing privileges as your skill increases. Each successive level of license comes with an expansion of privileges. With only 3 License Classes, getting started in Amateur radio has never been easier! Morse code is no longer required for any US Amateur Radio license! But it is still a very popular operating mode and is still in widespread use.
The FCC has authorized Volunteer Examiners (VE) to administer the tests. These are Amateur Radio operators who have taken additional training and testing to be certified to perform this function. There is always a minimum of 3 VE's required to administer any test. Each test is graded by each of the VE's to ensure accuracy in scoring.
For more information, contact someone from our club (see our Contact page) or Call the ARRL’s toll-free number at 1-888-277-5289 and request an informational Amateur Radio prospect package and / or visit the ARRL getting started page at ARRL Hello Radio.
LEVEL 1: Technician Class License
Your introduction to Amateur Radio.
- Exam Requirement: 35-question Technician Written Exam (Element 2). (This is derived from a pool of 450 questions).
- Privileges: All VHF/UHF Amateur bands (frequencies above 30 MHz).
Limited operations in certain HF bands.
The FCC Technician License exam covers basic regulations, operating practices and electronics theory, with a focus on VHF and UHF applications. With a Technician Class license, you will have all ham radio privileges above 30 MHz. These privileges include the very popular 2-meter band. Many Technician licensees enjoy using small (2 meter) hand-held radios to stay in touch with other hams in their area. Technicians may operate FM voice, digital packet (computers), television, single-sideband voice and several other interesting modes. You can even make international radio contacts via satellites, using relatively simple station equipment. Technician licensees now also have additional privileges on certain HF frequencies. Technicians may also operate on the 80, 40 and 15 meter bands using CW (Morse Code), and on the 10 meter band using CW, voice and digital modes.
LEVEL 2: General Class License
Moving onto the HF (High Frequency) bands for world wide contacts.
- Exam Requirement: 35-question General Written Exam (Element 3). (This is derived from a pool of 450 questions).
- Privileges: All Technician Class privileges plus privileges on parts of all the HF Amateur bands (frequencies from 1.8 MHz to 30 MHz).
The FCC General License exam covers more regulations, operating practices and electronics theory, with a focus on the HF bands and working longer distances and other countries. There is a fair amount of electronics theory needed to pass this teat, but the study materials cover it very well. With a General Class license, you will have access to all the ham radio bands. There are certain portions of the HF bands that are restricted to Extra Class licenses (usually at the lower end of each band). General Class privileges include the ability to work contacts all over the world. Even with modest indoor antennas (such as in the attic or on a balcony). Generally you would use a desktop radio which is a little larger and may require additional accessories. The most popular modes on the HF bands are SSB Voice (Single Side Band), CW, and Digital Modes like PSK-31. But many hams operate AM voice (Amplitude Modulated) like AM radio stations use, ATV (Amateur Television), and many more.
LEVEL 3: Extra Class License
Access to all the the HF (High Frequency) bands for world wide contacts.
- Exam Requirement: 50-question General Written Exam (Element 4). (This is derived from a pool of 900 questions).
- Privileges: All Technician Class privileges plus all General Class privileges plus privileges on the parts of all the HF Amateur bands (frequencies from 1.8 MHz to 30 MHz) that are restricted to Extra Class Licensees.
The FCC Extra License exam covers more regulations, operating practices and a lot of electronics theory, with a focus on the HF bands and working longer distances and other countries. There is a large amount of electronics theory (including antenna design and some math) needed to pass this teat, but the study materials cover it very well. With an Extra Class license, you have access to all parts of the ham radio bands. There are certain portions of the HF bands that are restricted to Extra Class licenses (usually at the lower end of each band) and these are popular with some DX (long distance) stations, especially from countries that are difficult to work. They know the number of hams in those portions will be smaller and that makes it easier to work them. You can still use modest indoor antennas (such as in the attic or on a balcony) but you are more likely to want outdoor antennas, a tower and beam, an amplifier (for more power), etc. Generally you would use a desktop radio which is a little larger and may require additional accessories. The most popular modes on the HF bands are SSB Voice (Single Side Band), CW, and Digital Modes like PSK-31. But many hams operate AM voice (Amplitude Modulated) like AM radio stations use, ATV (Amateur Television), and many more.
How to learn what you need to pass the license tests.
- Take a Class - our club offers hands on classes throughout the year. Contact us for the current schedule. Technician and General classes usually are held on Saturdays for 3 hours over an 8 week period. Extra Classes are done with tutoring sessions on specific topics. All classes require independent study of a manual.
- Get a License Manual - There are manuals for each class of license. Each covers the information on the exam, has the entire pool of exam questions and answers and provides a little related material. The ARRL manuals tend to be a little more formally written and the Gordon West manuals tend to be less formally written. Some people find one style better to learn from and some find the other style better.
- Study On-Line - There are several websites that offer online practice tests. But be careful the one you find has the current tests. The questions pools are revised every 2 years or so. The following two are kept current
- QRZ On-Line Tests. This is a FREE part of the QRZ call sign lookup website. The questions and answers are good for practicing but there is not a lot of logic built in as a learning tool.
- Ham Test Online. This site lets you try it a little for free but it charges for full use. It has very good explanations of why the correct answer is right. It also has very good logic in not asking you questions you got right over and over again and giving you more questions and answers with explanations for those that you get wrong.
- Join a Club - Going to club meetings and joining a local club can help a lot when you have specific questions or need help with a particular topic. The larger the club the more likely you will find someone who can help.