Getting my Ham Radio License

1955-how-to-become-a-radio-amateur

I often find myself doing a kind of cultural dumpster diving, searching for forgotten activities waiting to be rediscovered. Most of this scavenging takes place at Los Angeles’ massive central library on lower level two, where all the how-to books are shelved. ┬áThis month I’m finally acting on something I’ve contemplated for years: getting my amateur radio (i.e. Ham) technician’s license. I’ll be taking the test in the middle of the smart phone era.

Curiously, when I’m deep in the cultural dumpster I often run into fellow scavenger John Michael Greer, a.k.a. the Archdruid. When I met him at the Age of Limits conference he held court on some of my favorite forgotten ideas: appropriate technology, fraternal societies and Ham radio. A Ham himself, Greer recommended I read an amazingly odd book, Instruments of Amplification, which actually has directions for building your own transistors from junk. I’ll probably never get around to any of those projects, but I of A may be the ultimate DIY text.

But I’m not just being contrarian. I’m looking forward to being of service to my community in the event of a disaster such as an earthquake.

I’m curious to know if any of our readers are Hams? Leave a comment . . .

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16 Comments

    • 12 bucks for each time you take the test. Some HAM clubs have annual dues. I just passed my Technician test. Gonna monitor some frequencies and and review radio etiquette for a day or two before I key that mic, though KK4TYQ

  1. My brother got his HAM radio license when we were teenagers, and I thought it was really interesting, especially the community groups that are organized to help in the case of disaster. He made a lot of friends in the community, and while he may not dust off his radio very often anymore, it still influenced his community involvement quite a bit.

  2. My neighbors and I successfully fought of the construction of a cell tower in our foothill community. During that process, we learned a lot about emergency communications, and what was amazing to us was the false sense of security that people have around cell phones. Both the Tujunga Canyon and Los Angeles County Emergency manuals explicitly discuss the fact that there are problems with cell phones in mass emergencies, and that having a HAM operator in your community (or several!) is a really good thing. For example, people don’t realize that cell tower batteries only last for about 8 hours, and even during the times they still have power, often get easily overwhelmed and drop more calls than usual. Also, unlike a landline, a cell phone just gets routed to the nearest tower that can handle the traffic and won’t id your exact location. Point being, yes, cell phones are a tool in the toolbox, but don’t overestimate their benefits. Huntington Hospital in Pasadena has been hosting HAM radio licensing classes for years. While they don’t do the training themselves, they host the classes on their campus as a service to the community because they realize that more HAM operators in an emergency will benefit them right back in helping more people if something truly major goes down. The class there has been a 2 day weekend class, with the licensing test being the second day. HH even paid for the $15 licensing fee for each of those that passed the test as an incentive! Dunno about other classes, but just tossing this info out there that HAM radio is yet another old skill that is actually still valued by those that know from emergency preparedness!!

    • oh – and I think the class itself was around $30, plus then, the nominal licensing fee. (I haven’t taken it yet myself, but have a few neighbors who are already HAMs :-)

    • Thanks for the scary info on our local cell infrastructure! I should have noted that I’m taking a six week class offered by the Pasadena Radio Club–the class is in Tujunga but the club normally meets at Kaiser headquarters in Pasadena. Cost for the class is $30 plus another $30 for the book. It’s a bargain.

  3. I’m not a HAM operator myself, but my husband is. He’s not as involved right now as he’d like to be since he works full time and is in grad school ( the club he was president of on campus last year fizzled out) but we’ve been looking into our local CERT groups for after we finish grad school.

  4. I’ve been licensed for the better part of 30 years (dad started us young). We used it as the family stay-in-touch-and-what-do-you-need-from-the-store method when I was a young teen, but the local airwaves got crowded enough that we gave up and were early phone adopters. Amateur radio is pretty fascinating, and has a long history of being vital in emergencies. Range and reliability are a bit dependent on sun cycles, solar storms, and auroras, though. :)

  5. Hi,

    I’ve been licensed since 1998. Been active in ARES/RACES (emergency communications) since 1999, and wilderness search and rescue since 2004.

    For fun, I help out with communications on bicycle charity rides and car rally events (hardly sustainable or resilient, but fun).

    It’s a great hobby, wide ranging, something to interest everyone.

    Have fun,

    Chris P
    W7CLP

  6. I am a licensed ham. It’s pretty simple to get the lowest license under your belt. Many places off cram courses which culminate in your taking the test. You won’t know anything about amateur radio after a cram course but you will probably pass. I learned a lot just from getting a radio and playing. There are a few good books out there with the basics so you won’t get hurt or arrested. Other than then, get licensed, start talking and find a ham buddy…that’s where you will learn stuff. I go in spurts as to how active I am on the radio. For some operators, ham is what they do. For others like me, it is something to do now and then…anyhow, it’s a fun thing to have as an option on winter nights so def get at least the first test taken!

  7. Oh Erik, you don’t need a license to grandstand in front of an audience…….your amateur status does just fine.

    Give K-Elf the mic.

  8. I’ve been licensed for 10 years. I enjoy making contacts around
    the US, as well as chatting over local 2m. Hiking and ham also
    go well together due to the range improvement. I looked into joining
    the Topanga emergency group in case I moved there but never did.

  9. If you don’t already have an amateur radio license, but would like to get one, I would like to invite you all to download my free study guide from http://www.kb6nu.com/tech-manual. I’m proud to say that my study guides have helped thousands get their Tech licenses.

    btw, it’s “ham radio,” not “HAM.” Ham radio is just a nickname for the hobby, not an acronym for anything, and the word “radio” should always follow it.

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