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Amateur radio (or Ham Radio) is an exciting hobby. Most everyone knows a family friend or relative who is an Amateur Radio operator. If you speak with them about the hobby they may start using strange words such as amplitude modulation or standing-wave ratio (SWR). Don't be frightened! You don't have to have a Ph.D in physics to enjoy the fascinating world of Ham Radio. Age or disability is not a barrier to obtaining a license. Many disabled Americans have found Amateur Radio to be a great way to "travel" to exotic places all over the World without leaving their home. Children, even as young as five years old, have successfully become Ham Radio operators!
There are three classes of Amateur Radio licenses: Technician, General, and Amateur Extra. The entry-level license, Technician, is relatively easy to obtain. This license allows the holder to use a wide range of radio frequencies -- everything above 50 MHz. This includes the popular "2-meter" band, satellites, microwave, packet radio, and much more. It is no longer necessary to pass a Morse code test to obtain a license! Removing this barrier, although controversial at the time it was enacted, has allowed the hobby to grow substantially in recent years. Advanced license classes, however, still require demonstration of Morse code proficiency.
The Amateur Radio licensing process is very straightforward. Applicants must pass a multiple-choice written test demonstrating an understanding of FCC rules and competency in basic radio theory. The question pool is widely available on the Internet and is part of most commercial study guides. The test is administered by other Amateur Radio volunteers (called Volunteer Examiners or "VE's"). Many clubs hold these tests in convenient locations on a monthly basis.
Several commercial study guides are available to help you pass the 35-question written test. One of the best is "Now You're Talking!" published by the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL). The ARRL is the national association for Amateur Radio and most "Hams" are members. The ARRL also publishes a popular pocket guide called the "ARRL Repeater Directory" which lists by geographic area all public Amateur Radio repeaters (machines that retransmit low power signals over a wide area). "Now You're Talking!" contains the entire test question pool (with answers) and can help you quickly identify your areas of weakness. It usually takes just a few hours of study to prepare for the Technician license exam.
After you pass the written test, the Volunteer Examiners will assist you in mailing your license application to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for processing. After a few weeks you will receive your license in the mail with your new callsign. Most Hams find that passing the test and receiving their license is just the beginning -- most learning happens after you become licensed!
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