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Zombie Squad Amateur Radio Network: part 2 - Licensing

Posted: Sat Sep 03, 2005 7:55 pm
by Doctor Jest
In this post, I’d like to explain how to get a ham license. This info applies to getting licensed in the USA; other countries have their own (usually similar) requirements.

You must have a license to talk on ham radio. Anyone can listen, but it is a felony to transmit without a license. They actively patrol and prosecute, which is why ham radio is far more organized and orderly than CB radio.

In the USA, there are three different classes of ham radio license. All of them require that you pass tests. Now before you click on the “back” button, let me tell you something. The tests are published. You can study for the test using the actual questions, word for word, that will appear on the test.

There are five year-old ham radio operators. One little girl got her first license when she was four. There are 12 year-olds who have the highest class amateur radio license. It simply is not that hard; all it takes is a little preparation.

The first license is the Technician class. That requires passing a 35 question test with a 70% or better. There is a “pool” of 350 possible questions, divided into 35 sections of ten questions each. On the test, one question is taken from each section. The questions are on the rules and regulations governing ham radio, operating procedures, safety, and very basic electronics. Many of the questions are very common sense (Q: When is it legal to use obscenities on the air? A: never), and the rest are pretty easy to learn. With the Technician license, you can use VHF (very high frequency) radios. These radios, often small handheld units, are good for talking locally or using packet (computer) radio. But usually they do not allow for long distance communications unless multiple stations are linked together (using “digipeaters”). To get HF (high frequency) privileges that allow you to easily communicate worldwide, you have to get the next license, the General class.

The General class license requires another written test. There is more about the rules, operating procedures, and electronics. While it does require a little more preparation, even non-technical people can get a General class license with a little work. General class licensees can use all the worldwide HF bands (though certain portions of those bands are reserved for the highest-class licensees).

The highest class license is the Amateur Extra class. That requires one more written test. These hams can operate on all ham frequencies and have all ham privileges. It even gives them the legal authority to put their own satellites into orbit (though getting them there is difficult). (I have an Advanced class license, a type of license no longer offered, in between the General and Amateur Extra).

To prepare, you need a copy of the questions. You can download them from the American Radio Relay League, the biggest ham radio organization in the USA, at . Or you can buy one of the study manuals from the ARRL:

The Technician’s Q&A Book (the questions with short explanations of the answers), or
Now You’re Talking (same, but with all kinds of extra info on ham radio, setting up a station, etc.).

The ARRL also sells manuals for the higher licenses, and other educational materials. You can even buy DVDs or VHS tapes that will prep you for the test. There are also web sites where you can take practice tests using the actual questions, such as

When you’re ready to take the test, you have to find a local radio club. The tests are given by volunteer ham radio operators. They will administer and grade the test, and, if you pass, send your info to the FCC, who will issue your license. If you fail, you can always try again (on another day). You can keep trying until you pass. The test costs about $15 to cover the volunteer’s expenses, like gas. You can get a list of clubs and test dates from the ARRL web site.

Once you pass your test, you have a license for life (it must be renewed (free) once every 10 years). You will get your own set of call letters that uniquely identifies your station. And you join a group of millions of people worldwide who love to communicate. Hams are the friendliest people around; their whole purpose is to communicate.

In the next post, some information on setting up a radio station; it won’t cost you an arm and a leg!

Part 1 - Intro
Part 2 - Licensing
Part 3 - Equipment
Part 4 - Networking

Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2005 12:38 am
by Bear_B
Ah HA!!! Now we are getting some where. Dr. Jest I have learned more from the 5 mins it took me to read your post than I did with the last hour of google searching!

Outstanding! Now to download the info and begin study! By the time this fema crap is over and I actually GET a day off Im gonna take the test!

Woo Hoo!

Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2005 12:44 am
by Bear_B
Holy Crap! The question pool is 76 pages long!

Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2005 2:28 pm
by Doctor Jest
Yeah, the pool is long. But they only ask one question per section, and a lot of them are repeats, just worded differently. I'd suggest getting a copy of the Tech Q&A book - it's short, easy to read, and easier to study from.

Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2005 4:24 pm
by Doctor Jest
I know I already addressed your concern about the length of the question pool. There are 350 questions that you have to know, and that is a lot of info. But let me explain a little further and then maybe you will be encouraged a little bit more.
Just to reiterate, there are 35 questions on the test. You need a 70% to pass - you can miss 9 questions and still pass.

There are 10 sections on the Technician's test.

Part 1 is on the FCC rules. There are 5 questions from this part.
Q1: Basic definitions and prohibited transmissions. Like, who is the FCC and the fact that you're not allowed to curse on the air.
Q2: What frequencies you're allowed to use. A pain in the butt to memorize all those numbers, so most people just guess and if they get it wrong, hey, it's only 1 question.
Q3: License regulations. Like how long does your license last before it needs to be renewed, or who is legally responsible for what comes out of your radio.
Q4: Getting licensed. Like who can get a license, or what's the name of the test you have to pass, or who can give a ham test.
Q5: Call signs. All USA call signs begin with W, K, N, or A. They have a number in the middle somewhere.

Part 2 is on basic radio theory. There are two questions on this part.
Q1: Basic radio facts, like what frequency means or the fact that the higher the frequency, the shorter the radio wave. Takes a little study if you don't remember your high school physics, or didn't take it.
Q2: A question on particular types of radio waves like CW (Morse code) or packet radio (computer radio). Not too hard, but there are a few definitions you have to recognize.

Part 3 is on how radio waves travel. 2 questions.
Q1: Question on how radio waves "skip" off of the ionosphere and bounce back down to the ground. This makes long-distance communications possible.
Q2: Things that affect how radio waves travel. Like how many sunspots there are and cool layers of air in the atmosphere. These questions aren't hard once you read over the material. It's kinda interesting, too.

Part 4 is on regulations that govern how and where you operate. 3 questions on this part.
Q1: Where and when you can operate, and antenna regulations. Like if you can operate on a cruise ship and how tall your antenna can be before you have to worry about airplanes.
Q2: Terms related to control of your station, and rules on same. Like, what is a control operator and what are the responsibilities of the control operator. Not tough, just mostly terms.
Q3: Emergency situations and distress calls. What to do if you hear a distress call; the fact that it's illegal to make false distress calls.

Part 5 is on more operating regulations. 3 more questions.
Q1: Rules related to operating a remote control station or if you are at another ham's station.
Q2: Rules on how much power you are allowed to use and identifying your station with your call sign.
Q3: Rules related to letting other people talk on your radio, and stuff you're not allowed to do, like get paid to talk on the air.

Part 6 is on operating practices, how not to sound like a noob on the air. 3 questions.
Q1: Terms you hear on the air and how to call someone (or answer a call).
Q2: Using morse code; how "fat" different types of signal are (ie, their bandwidth)
Q3: How to tell and what to do if your radio is screwing up. Like if you hear loud buzzing or your neighbor hears you on his TV.

Part 7 is on basic electronics and has 3 questions.
Q1: Electrical terms, Ohm's law, and units. Like what is measured in ohms; or if there are 60 volts pushing 2 amps of electricity thru a wire, what's its resistance, or how many volts make a kilovolt. If you are rusty in science, this will take some study. But it's not deep.
Q2: What's a digital signal; what frequencies are considered radio waves; what does an amplifier do. Some miscellaneous questions, just read them over a couple of times.
Q3: Various electrical components like fuses, batteries, capacitors, and resistors. Somewhat complicated. You have to remember stuff like gold conducts better than glass, that capacitors block DC electricity but let AC through, and schematic symbols for some basic components.

Part 8 is on good engineering practices. 6 questions.
Q1: Basics of using radio equipment, like what the squelch knob is for and how to connect an antenna switch.
Q2: Transmitter basics. How to send signals using radio equipment. Like how to test your radio without really sending out a signal or looking at diagrams of stations and recognizing different pieces of equipment.
Q3: Receiver basics. Troubleshooting problems with your receiver, some technical details of how radios "hear" radio waves. One of the more complicated sections.
Q4: Antenna basics. recognizing different types of antennas, figuring out how long your wire antenna should be to work properly, how to check your antenna's performance.
Q5: The wire that connects your radio to the antenna. How to connect it, how to test it, radio equipment used to test it. Again, this one is a little complicated.
Q6: Meters and soldering. A question on using voltmeters or ammeters or how to solder properly.

Part 9 - Special types of operating, mostly the types Technicians will actually do. 2 questions.
Q1: Repeaters. These are automatic radio stations that retransmit (or "repeat") the signal from your little handheld radio. How they work, and procedures used while talking on a repeater.
Q2: Unusual types of operating like TV, satellites, bouncing your signal off of the Moon, radio control airplanes, etc.

Part 10 - Safety. 6 questions.
Q1: Home electrical safety. How not to get fried at home.
Q2: Antenna safety. How not to get killed by lightning or fall off your antenna tower.
Q3: Antenna radiation safety. How close you can stand to your antenna and still have kids someday.
Q4: Another question on antenna radiation safety (different info).
Q5: Yet another one. These 3 questions are a pain. Lots of fancy terms. Good to study, but don't worry if you miss one or two. You can get nine wrong, remember.
Q6: How to tell if your station meets FCC requirements.

Well, that's it. It is a lot of info. But remeber, you get the same questions verbatim on the test. And you can try repeatedly. Let me just say that I know a lot of hams, and I am absolutely certain that you are a lot sharper than some of them. You can do it, Bear. Get the Tech Q&A book from the ARRL and put 15 minutes a day into it. You will be ready in two months at most.


Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2005 11:35 pm
by Bear_B
Thanks Doc Jest!!! This is goign to help a lot. I have been going over the test questions on line, and most look like common sense to me.

I have scheduled my test for Saturday the 17th. ITs only 14 bucks so if I have to retest its not that big a deal!

Posted: Fri Sep 09, 2005 11:20 am
by CounterContagion
I just ordered a study book. I should be ready for the test in a couple weeks or so.

Posted: Fri Sep 09, 2005 2:10 pm
by Doctor Jest
Good luck, guys. If there is anything I can to help, just ask. :D

Posted: Mon Sep 12, 2005 8:19 pm
by CounterContagion
Quick test question....

How is the code test performed? I am more then 1/2 way thru learning the code and will prob try the code test right off the bat.

What format is the test and how is it graded?

Posted: Mon Sep 12, 2005 8:57 pm
by Doctor Jest
The VEs (volunteer examiners) will have a tape or CD of Morse code at a speed of five words per minute. They will play it for you. It will begin with a series of 6 Vs (VVV VVV) to get you started.

The rest of the test follows a standard format. It is in the form of a normal two-way conversation in Morse code. The first person always calls CQ first, then the other answers him, then the first person replies and gives the second information about himself. They must use all 26 letters, ten numbers, and four punctuation symbols in the test. It might go something like this.

CQ CQ CQ DE K6ABC (Calling any station, this is K6ABC)
K6ABC DE W4ZXP (K6ABC, this is W4ZXP)
hi name here is bill
QTH duck hill fl. (I live in Duck Hill, Florida)
temp 84
ur sig 579 (your signal is loud, clear,pure)
rig here is kenwood with dipole (describing his station)
hw copy? (How's my signal?)

You get the idea. (By the way, there is no capitals vs. small letters)

Several important things to remember:

1. If you miss a letter, leave it blank. Immediately forget about it and catch the next one. If it doesn't automatically come to you, don't search your mind. Just leave it blank. You'll miss two more letters trying to recall.

2. You only have to jump over the hurdle, not get it perfect, and they try to cut you some slack.

First of all, after the test is over, they give to time to go back, look over what you wrote down, and fill in any blanks. For example, if you wrote down "Te_as is my state" it wouldn't take a genius to figure out you missed an "x" in there.

Secondly, if you wrote down one perfect minute of code anywhere, you pass. That's one minute out of five, anywhere. They send it at five words per minute, and they consider a word five letters. That means if you get 25 in a row anywhere, you pass; and numbers and punctuation symbols count for two. So if, at the beginning, you successfully got


you just passed the test. (And it always starts out "CQ CQ CQ DE...")

Third, let's say that you didn't have a perfect minute anywhere, little mistakes every so often. Then, they give you a sheet with 10 questions on it like "where is he from?" or "what kind of radio does he have?" If you can answer 7 out of 10 questions, you pass.

It really isn't that tough. Keep practicing! Usually 15-20 minutes per day for a month to 6 weeks will do it. Use CDs or tapes or the net for practice, and let me know if I can help.

Posted: Tue Sep 13, 2005 12:03 am
by Bear_B
Bear_B wrote:Thanks Doc Jest!!! This is goign to help a lot. I have been going over the test questions on line, and most look like common sense to me.

I have scheduled my test for Saturday the 17th. ITs only 14 bucks so if I have to retest its not that big a deal!

FEMA may not be letting me off in time to take the test on Saturday morning. But the guy told me they do it every month at that location and all I have to do is show up. So it may not be this month, but rather next month.


Its the story of my life!

Posted: Fri Nov 04, 2005 5:30 pm
by BoltAction
Ok so i am going to take the test this sunday. I just started to look over the Q's today : )

Its only like $15 so i am not to worried if i fail. Just printed out the whole q doc and will be looking it over non stop till then. With any luck i will just pass!

Thank you much for the info dr j.

Posted: Fri Nov 04, 2005 6:24 pm
by kyle
BoltAction wrote:Ok so i am going to take the test this sunday. I just started to look over the Q's today : )

Its only like $15 so i am not to worried if i fail. Just printed out the whole q doc and will be looking it over non stop till then. With any luck i will just pass!

Thank you much for the info dr j.
Good luck!

Posted: Sun Nov 06, 2005 5:19 pm
by CounterContagion
Well I finally did it. Passed elements 2 and 3 today so I'll be on the air soon as my license goes thru!

Also picked up a VX-7R at the hamfest!

Posted: Sun Nov 06, 2005 5:31 pm
by Doctor Jest

Posted: Tue Aug 08, 2006 2:24 am
by Trebor
Did the FCC wind up dumping the code requirement or not?

Posted: Tue Aug 08, 2006 8:47 am
by Doctor Jest
They still have not acted on it. They take a long time to decide to do anything. I haven't heard so much as a peep about it in months.

Posted: Sun Aug 13, 2006 1:37 pm
by Doctor Jest
Well, in the latest issue of QST magazine, there was a column updating the information about when the FCC is going to drop the Morse code requirement. In a nutshell, it said that there is no update:
As of press time, all bets appeared to be off as to when the FCC would release a final decision on deleting the Morse code requirement. In July 2005, an FCC Notice of Proposed Rule Making and Order (NPRM&O) in WT Docket 05-235 proposed to eliminate the 5 WPM Morse code requirement for all license classes. Most observers have expected the Commission to release a Report and Order (R&O) to that effect by year's end, but even that timetable could prove optimistic, based on what the Commission will say publicly.

Basically, the rest of the article explained that...
...the FCC will get around to the Morse code decision after it acts on some previously proposed and accepted changes. (These changes will expand the phone bands and let Techs with Morse code credit (or any leftover Novice class operators) use any of the General class CW bands.)
...there will be a delay before the new rules go into effect those who are waiting for the FCC to drop the code requirement are probably looking at a year or more wait.

Oh, well. It'll happen, eventually, but not anytime soon. I still think that five words per minute is not that incredibly difficult, and it does open up all the worldwide HF bands once you get the General class, not only with Morse but with voice, data, etc.

Posted: Tue Dec 12, 2006 9:37 pm
by jamoni
Just got my technician license. Let me tell you, those guys make regular nerds seem like suave sophisticates. They did mock the guy who failed, though, which was pretty cool.

Posted: Tue Dec 12, 2006 9:49 pm
by Doctor Jest
Hey, congratulations, jamoni!!!

Yeah, a lot of hams have staked major claims in Nerdland. Goes with the territory. Forunately, I am an extremely cool ham/physics teacher/trekkie.

Now it's time to start getting ready for that General license!!!

Posted: Tue Dec 12, 2006 10:35 pm
by jamoni
So.... I shouldn't get a radio first? :D

Posted: Tue Dec 12, 2006 10:51 pm
by Doctor Jest
Yes, get a radio first...maybe Santa Claus will leave one in your stocking, assuming that you have been a good boy.

Though really, it is a good idea to go on to the General while you have some momentum. I like talking to the other local hams on 2 meters, but once you get that General the whole world opens up.

Posted: Tue Dec 12, 2006 11:04 pm
by jamoni
Doctor Jest wrote:Yes, get a radio first...maybe Santa Claus will leave one in your stocking, assuming that you have been a good boy.
Not likely. :P
Though really, it is a good idea to go on to the General while you have some momentum. I like talking to the other local hams on 2 meters, but once you get that General the whole world opens up.

You're the boss. How much harder is general?

Posted: Tue Dec 12, 2006 11:57 pm
by Hermit
jamoni wrote:Just got my technician license. Let me tell you, those guys make regular nerds seem like suave sophisticates. They did mock the guy who failed, though, which was pretty cool.
Grats on the license...I'm working on getting the book to study up.