I have been learning about and have know a bit about HAM Radio for quite some time. I am not a license carrier, but would consider it. Today, I wanted to really just discuss, “Just what is HAM Radio.” Then I have some information or references to give you about the HAM Radio bands or frequencies. I also touch on being able to use the FCC license search.
HAM Radio (HAM or AR for Amateur Radio) is a voluntarily maintained, official radio network that is given nearly full governing by the FCC to its users. Let me break this down. The FCC is responsible for all of the available radio frequencies, who uses them, what bands they are allowed to use, and what licenses they have. In the entire range of frequencies, there are some that are allocated to amateur radio. The FCC has given most of the oversight to the users, and only steps in when they get wind of someone acting like an idiot on the radio. Even the exam for the license is member governed and administered.
There are many different bands or frequencies that are allowed to HAM users, but some are limited or restricted based on license class. The three basic licenses are Technician, General, and Extra Class. Technician is allowed much of the UHF (ultra high frequency bands) and VHF (very high frequency) bands that travel limited distances. If you get the general license, you have to pass the technician and general exam, which will open you up to most of the HF bands, which are much longer range. Now if you take the Extra Class exam to get that license, you will open up a few other frequencies that aren’t available to the other users, but it may be overkill for those that are considering HAM for prepping.
There is a basic motto, that when in an Emergency Situation, on HAM everything goes. So if you have a license that doesn’t allow HF, but an emergency requires it, you are not generally reprimanded by locals, or the FCC. This works for other regulation violations as well, but only in extreme emergency where life and limb are in danger.
As I said, the local clubs usually set up the towers to certain frequencies, and you can find the list on radioreference.com. They have an awesome list that is map searchable for every county in the country. It is a great reference tool for someone looking for frequencies in any area that they are unfamiliar with, or a new user just learning the frequencies there.
As for the licenses, there is a bank of about 360 question or so, about a tenth of which will show up on any exam. All the exams are published and public. So it is very easy to go to any reference site to study for the exam, and it isn’t too terribly difficult, according to pretty much all HAMers. There are apps for smartphones now that use the question bank to help you study. If you want a guarantee from a website that is designed to help people pass, or they don’t make any money, you can go to http://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com/. There are also some free resources on the American Radio Relay League website. The ARRL is great because they are to AR as the NRA is to guns.
For someone that want a really cool digital, touch screen operated, unit with self connection to towers as you enter your zip code, or even connects to new towers based on GPS location, you could try the Uniden Home Patrol unit. The best way I can describe it, is it will roam and connect similar to how user-friendly a cell phone does.
Now, in the survival community, a common concern for people is being added to yet another list on the government radar. I can understand this, and everyone has to make this decision for themselves, but the radio is a great tool. The list is public record and you can look up everyone’s information on the FCC License Search. I think http://qrz.com/ keeps a call-sign database as well.
I am just going to touch on this, because it could be a nerdy post for a later date, but some of the more intense radio users are using them in place of WIFI for a 15 mile range signal. Others are using them to send emails, or to connect up to a local internet connected repeater tower and talk around the world using the internet, through your radio. When the internet goes down, you still have the tower for long range capabilities, which most have generator backup on them. When the tower goes down, you still have your radio with some range as well.
You can actually set up a good, high powered mobile unit in your car, and set it up to basically be a repeater, and then own a handheld that you talk in. Now using a handheld within a few miles of your car, you can easily have 15 or 20 miles range from a handheld. If your car is within 15 miles of a repeater, you can reach even further!
All of this functionality and capability is given to the amateur radio person, but not to commercial licenses. How awesome it that? I think HAM is a great tool, and even though I don’t really like the idea of being on a public list, I think just being to use and practice on HAM proactively is much better than trying to figure it out when the SHTF.
As I write tips for your adventures and hear about cool gear, I will let you know all about it!