How to become a HAM

All you ever wanted, and maybe didn’t want to know.

To become a HAM or Amateur Radio Operator you must hold an amateur FCC license. This means taking a test from a local VE (Volunteer Examiner) group.

I am going to list a lot of links on this page where you can go to take practice tests, real tests, FCC info as well as other resources to learn. We try to keep lots of learning materials on our site, but we are still growing.

Lets first discuss what a HAM is and why you might want to be one. HAM means Amateur Radio Operator. Where it came from is a mysterious story for another post. Many ask, what do they mean by “amateur”. Most HAMs are anything but “amateur” but the FCC labeled the class of licenses amateur because they also issue licenses for those who work on radios professionally for a job. You can see where that could get confusing. When you consider that the first license for amateurs is a “Technician” license, it’s important that the amateur label get on their as well. A commercial radio license is much different.

Levels of Amateur Radio Licenses

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 U.S., there are three license classes. The higher the class of license, the more frequencies are available. Earning each higher class license requires passing a more difficult examination. Although regulated by the FCC, license exams are given by volunteer groups of Amateur Radio operators. Operating under organizations called Volunteer Examiner Coordinators, volunteers administer and grade tests and report results to the FCC, which then issues the license. U.S. licenses are good for 10 years before renewal, and anyone may hold one except a representative of a foreign government.

Starting with the lowest which has the least amount of privileges moving up to the highest.

This was restructured in 2000, prior to that there had been more classes, some think that was better, some worse, either way this is where we are now.

  • Technician Class

The Technician class license is the entry-level license of choice for most new ham radio operators. To earn the Technician license requires passing one examination totaling 35 questions on radio theory, regulations and operating practices. The license gives access to all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 megahertz, allowing these licensees the ability to communicate locally and most often within North America. It also allows for some limited privileges on the HF (also called “short wave”) bands used for international communications.

  • General Class

The General class license grants some operating privileges on all Amateur Radio bands and all operating modes. This license opens the door to world-wide communications. Earning the General class license requires passing a 35 question examination. General class licensees must also have passed the Technician written examination.

  • Extra Class

The Amateur Extra class license conveys all available U.S. Amateur Radio operating privileges on all bands and all modes. Earning the license is more difficult; it requires passing a thorough 50 question examination. Extra class licensees must also have passed all previous license class written examinations.

Study Materials

Where to take practice tests

Where to take a REAL test and become a HAM

This is a hard one because there are multiple organizations who coordinate Volunteer Examiners and even beyond that many of those volunteer examiners aren’t very good about  keeping people in the loop as to when they are testing. It is usually easier to find a testing session in a bigger city because they are more organized. Check all the resources below, but also check local news outlet for community events and even local HAM club websites.

Below is a list from the FCC for Volunteer Examiner Coordinators at the highest level. You can contact the one closest to you for more information if you are still having trouble finding a test location and time.

P.O. Box 1283
Kodiak, AK 99615
P: 907-987-6716
225 Main Street
Newington, CT 06111-1494
P: 860-594-0300
F: 860-594-0339
1204 Governors Dr SE
Huntsville, AL 35801
P: 256-509-5271
P.O. Box 508
Chico, CA 95927-0508
P: 530-893-9211
POB 500133
Palmdale, CA 93591
P: 661-264-1863
P.O. Box 73665
Metairie, LA 70033
P: 504-636-8809
 
5287 W Belmont Rd
Tucson, AZ 85743
P: 520-219-0452
2505 S. Calhoun Rd., #203
New Berlin, WI 53151
MO-KAN VEC Coordinator
228 Tennessee Road
Richmond, KS 66080-9174
P: 785-615-1097
5511 Maryland Ave
La Mesa, CA 91942-1519
P: 619-843-3747
P.O. Box 60307
Sunnyvale, CA 94088-0307
P: 408-255-9000
P.O. Box 200065
Arlington, TX 76006-0065
P: 800-669-9594
7 Skylyn Ct.
Asheville, NC 28806-3922
P: 828-253-1192

History of Radio and Particularly Amateur Radio

Credit to Dave Casler, KE0OG for most of this compiling.

1890s and before

1844 Morse telegraph
1858 First transatlantic cable (doesn’t last even a year because of gross misuse occasioned by complete lack of understanding of the physics involved)
1865 Continental Morse code differs from American Morse in about half the characters and all the punctuation and numerals
1865 ITU (International Telegraph Union) formed. ITU (International Telecommuncations Union) still exists and governs worldwide use of radio spectrum
1866 Successful transatlantic cable
1868 Mahlon Loomis demonstrates wireless telegraphy of two stations 18 miles apart
1800s Development of experiments and understanding of electricity: Oersted, Ampere, Faraday, Henry (1832)
1860-1861 James Clerk Maxwell wrote his equations which completely describe classical electromagnetics
1880 Heaviside invents coaxial cable and patents it in England
1883 Edison discovers “Edison effect,” actually a diode, but does not capitalize on it
1887 Hertz demonstrates that Maxwell’s postulated electromagnetic field (EMF) exists
Oliver Heaviside recasts Maxwell’s equations in their present form
1890s Marconi does his early work
Spark transmitters are invented
1897 formation of Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Ltd
1889 Marconi bridges English Channel with wireless

1900s

1901 Marconi spans Atlantic (first contact is disputed, but other contacts followed) using spark transmitter and coherer detector
1901 Fessenden invents heterodyning
1902 Arc oscillator using a “negative resistance” effect in carbon arc; generates “pure” undamped wave
1900s Synchronous rotary arc, caused an audio modulation of signal; permits easier reception (sort of like MCW)
1902 Heaviside postulates ionosphere
1903 Wright brothers: first controlled, powered, heavier than air flight at Kitty Hawk, NC
1904 Fleming valve (diode) invented by experimenting with Edison effect
1905 widespread use of 500 kHz as ship distress frequency
1905 Vibroplex introduced; still manufactured today
1905 SOS starts being used; gradually replaces CQD
1906 deForest adds grid (“Audion”–a triode) with amplification factor of about 4 to 20
1906 First broadcast of human speech and music, Fessenden
1906 The term “radio” introduced
1906 Hugo Gernsback opens Electro-Importing Company
1907 Einstein discovers E=mc**2 relationship
1900s Galena, silicon, and carborundum crystal receivers (a loose contact with galena via a “cat whisker” forms a diode)
1908 Hugo Gernsback publishes Modern Electrics magazine, first radio magazine
1909 Hugo Gernsback founds Wireless Association of America
Late 1900s Airways were a contentious mess with constant QRM
1909 Radio Club of America formed
1909 Don Wallace (later W6AM in 1928) on air for first time; later becomes famous for his huge rhombic
farm atop Rancho Palos Verde in Los Angeles area

1910s

1910 cat whisker detector
Around 1910, term “ham” applied to amateurs; original meaning was derogatory, but hams wore it with pride
and still do
A well-designed kilowatt transmitter has range of perhaps 100 miles (most of the kilowatt is wasted in the
spark, signals extremely broadband)
1910 Gernsback issues Wireless Blue Book: first compendium of 90 stations
1912 Armstrong uses feedback in an Audion; amplifiers and oscillators become practical
1912 RMS Titanic sinks; major turning point in radio history
1912 Radio Act of 1912 prompted by Titanic disaster; “ownership” of bands removed from Marconi
company; licenses required; amateurs licensed and restricted to “200 meters (and down)” (meaning 1.5 MHz and up);
first licensed amateur is 1ZE, Irving Vermiolya; essay tests required!
1912 Q-codes developed; still used today; original list had 50
1912 International Morse introduced to replace both American Morse and Continental Morse; this is the code
we use today
1912/1913 Armstrong invents regenerative receiver; becomes public in 1915; vastly more sensitive than
crystal radios
1913 Severe windstorm in midwest creates blackout; first documented emergency communications by hams
1913 Wireless Society of London founded; later becomes RSGB
1914 Hiram Percy Maxim and Clarence Tuska create Amateur Radio Relay League with backing of Radio
Club of Hartford, which appropriated $50. Primary purpose to move traffic in an orderly way;
1914 Beginning of WW1 in Europe, “The Great War,” “The war to end all wars”
1915 QST publishes first issue
1915 Ray Kellog invents electric moving coil loudspeaker
1915 John Carson applies for patent on idea to suppress carrier and one sideband
1917 Code speed requirement raised to 10 wpm
1917 US entered war; 4000 hams would serve; war ended in 1918; During WWI, QST shuts down
1917 saw 6000 amateurs in US armed forces
1918, 1919 HPM lobbies heavily for return of amateur radio; succeeds; shows lobbying power of ARRL
1918 Armstrong invents superheterodyne technique (creation of an intermediate frequency); also attributed to
Levy of France
1919 Beverage antenna developed
1919 First use of “Wouff Hong” as something used to remedy poor operating techniques

1920s

Tuned Radio Frequency (TRF) radios become common; superhet becomes common toward end of decade
1920 First “Radio Amateur’s Callbook” with Flying Horse design
1920 First licensed broadcast station KDKA, still operates today
1921 first transatlantic two-way CW in 1923 (France/US) on 110 meters (about 2.7 MHz)
1921 Round-trip cross-USA message in 6.5 minutes
1921 Pacific Radio News magazine founded, later becomes Radio News, after WWII becomes CQ
1921 10,809 amateurs in US
1922 16,467 amateurs in US; growth rate phenomenal!
1922 Wireless Society of London becomes Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB), still active today
1922 Amateur First Grade and Amateur Second Grade (latter for those hams not personally examined by a
US Radio Inspector) 10 wpm code, less than 1KW input power
1922 Carson describes FM and concludes it’s inferior to AM (Armstrong’s contribution comes a decade later)
1922 Armstrong invents super-regenerative receiver; used very few components, but superhet superceded it in
popularity
1923 Patent granted for SSB
1923 WWV starts broadcasting time and frequency
1923 US Bureau of Standards suggests using frequency instead of wavelength
1924 Quartz crystals introduced to amateur community
1924 Spark banned on new amateur bands at 80, 40, 20 and 5 meter
1925 MARS precursor, the Army’s Auxiliary Amateur Radio System (AARS) formed by Signal Corps
1925 Dynamic loudspeakers appear
1926 Spark prohibited for US Amateurs
1926 Yagi and Uda invent what we today call the Yagi (beam) antenna
1926 Japan Amateur Radio League (JARL) formed
1926 IARU introduces Worked All Continents (WAC) award
1920s Price of vacuum tubes falls (Moore’s law already?)
1920s Amateurs use tubes for transmitting CW; very narrow bandwidth, allows putting lots of power on one
frequency
1920s At end of decade amateurs had harmonically-related bands 160, 80, 40, 20, 10, 5
IARU formed
1920s Broadcast explodes; 1927 Radio Act; Federal Radio Commission formed to manage civilian
communications (government frequencies managed separately: a situation that still exists)
1928 US callsigns add a W or K prefix
1928 Segal, W9EEA, writes a “suggested amateur’s code” (considerate, loyal, progressive, friendly, balanced,
and patriotic)
1928 First television station, W3XK
1929 Screen grid introduced (tetrode); suppressor grid (pentode) a year later
1929 German inventor Rudolph Hell invents Hellschreiber (light writer)
1929 Stock market crash; beginning of Great Depression

1930s

1930 AM allowed on 20 meters
1931 Empire State Building opened
1931 AT&T patents a coaxial cable (originally invented by Heaviside in 1880)
1932 First panadapter (frequency analyzer) allows spotting of signals visually
1932 Beginnings of Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES)
1933 First Field Day; W4PAW group wins with 62 QSOs
1933 R/9 Magazine published articles by W6DEI, Robert Moore, on SSB; articles not widely noticed
1933 Astatic crystal microphones introduced
1933 President Roosevelt begins “fireside chats” via radio
1934 Communications Act (still in effect) creates Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
1934 Logs required
1936 HPM SK
1936 Armstrong publishes classic paper on FM; same method used today
1936 ARRL introduces Worked All States (WAS) Award
1937 ARRL acquires HPM’s W1AW callsign, still used to this day
1937 DXCC introduced (discontinued during WWII)
1937 Marconi SK
1938 ARRL’s W1AW station dedicated in Newington, CT, in building still used
1938 Coax RG/U (Radio Guide Utility) numbers introduced (e.g., RG-8, RG-58)
1938 Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” broadcast
1939 Beginning of war in Europe; amateur operations restricted
1939 Cubical quad antenna introduced
1939 51,000 US hams
1939 FCC introduces multiple-choice tests
1939 RCA introduces 811 transmitting tube

1940s

1941 Japanese attack Pearl Harbor; US enters war; all amateur activity ceases
1940s Of 60,000 US amateurs, 25,000 serve in armed forces, 25,000 more serve in industry or training
positions (back then, amateurs were much younger). During war, military frequently looks to ARRL for technical
advice; ARRL Handbook becomes invaluable aid to developing radios for military use
1942 War Emergency Radio Service (WERS) on 112 MHz; terminated after VJ day in 1945
1942 ARRL publishes a Defense Edition of ARRL Handbook
1943 US Supreme Court rules in Tesla’s favor regarding radio patents by Marconi (culmination of a decades long
dispute)
1945 Civilian radio use explodes; many manufacturers
1945 Coax cable in wide use (was invented in 1880 by Heaviside)
1945 CQ magazine commences publication; predecessor magazines include Pacific Radio News
1945 6 meter and 2 meter bands added (forcing hams to change equipment from 5 meter and 2.5 meter bands)
Post 1945, military surplus radio equipment floods market
1946 first meteor scatter contacts
1946 Tenth call district added
1946 G5RV invents G5RV antenna
1947 11 meter band added on shared basis
1947 Hams at Stanford University in California begin experiments with SSB–took a decade to become
common
1947 Transistor invented by Shockley et al at Bell Labs
1947 First electronic kit by Heathkit
1947 Quarter Century Wireless Association (QCWA) formed (25-year veterans); club still operates
1947 Beginnings of the “Red Scare”; through 1954 and beyond
1948 AARS changed to MARS

1950s

1950 US amateur population around 90,000
1951 Novice, Tech and Amateur Extra licenses. Old A, B, C, become Advanced, General, and Conditional.
Novice is HF plus some VHF, 5 wpm code test; Tech is 220 MHz and up, 5 wpm code test
1951 AT&T introduces Direct Distance Dialing (DDD); takes years to become universal in US
1952 15 meter band added
1952 RACES founded
1952 Special privileges for Advanced and Amateur Extra were withdrawn (meaning Generals had all
privileges)
1952 Central Electronics offers SSB gear
1953 first amateur moonbounce
1954 Texas Instruments introduces first all-transistor AM broadcast band receiver; Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo of
Japan picks it up, changes its company name to Sony
1954 first color television system; what an opportunity for TVI!
1954 first all-transistor computer
1954 Herbert Armstrong SK
1955 160 meters returned to hams; many restrictions that were gradually lifted
1955 Collins introduces the “gold dust twins,” the 75A-4 receiver and the KWS-1 transmitter; both optimized
for SSB
1956 Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” becomes US #1 single
1956 TAT-1, first transatlantic telephone cable, went into operation
1957 Sputnik; education system in US overhauled to create scientists needed for defense development;
“missile gap”
1957 to 1962 CONELRAD; Hams had to monitor certain local broadcast signals; if these went off the air,
hams were to go off the air also
1957 First integrated circuits by Fairchild Semiconductor; 1958 Jack Kilby invents first monolithic IC
1957/1958 International Geophysical Year
1957 Slow scan TV defined
1957 Drake issues first amateur band product, the 1A receiver
1958 Class D Citizen’s Band on 11 meters; hams lose 11 meters (huge uproar!)
Late 1950s Log periodic antenna developed at University of Illinois

1960s

1960 FCC grants special temporary authority for SSTV
1960 First two-way 1296 MHz EME contact
1960 73 Magazine begins publishing by Wayne Green, W2NSD, who was often at odds with the ARRL
1960 QST surveys readers, finds about 50%-50% split between SSB and AM; though 20 meters about 75%
SSB
1961 Montrose Amateur Radio Club formed!!
1961 Email invented
1961 first OSCAR; formation of AMSAT in 1969
1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
1963 ARRL moves its headquarters from Hartford to W1AW site in Newington
1963 Kennedy assassinated
1963 250,000 hams; CBers outnumber ham population
1963 Drake introduces TR-3 transceiver
1964 IOTA (islands on the air) award created
1965 Gordon Moore articulates Moore’s Law
1967 Hugo Gernsback SK
1967 Incentive licensing removed privileges from General hams; huge controversy; ARRL was in favor of
incentive licensing; caused enormous public relations problems for ARRL; exclusive Advanced and Extra subbands
on 80, 40, 20, 15, and 6 (Even though there was incredible resistance to this, these subbands remain! Except on 6
meters)
1968 FCC suthorizes SSTV
1969 Man lands on the moon and returns safely
1969 First computer network between major university campuses; first ARPANET message (predecessor to
the Internet)

1970s

FM repeaters gain major traction
Channelized FM
Mc and Kc replaced by MHz and kHz (metric system)
1970 270,000 US hams
1970 Drake TR-4 introduced
1971 Yaesu introduces FT-101 HF transceiver; it and its successors are highly popular
1972 Novices can use VFO; no longer “rock-bound”
1972 Kenwood introduces TS-520 HF transceiver
1972 FCC widened HF phone bands; reduced impact of incentive licensing
1972 First repeater; duplexer made from discarded Navy shell casings
1975 ARPANET declared “operational”
1975 MIPS Altair 880 microcomputer uses Intel 8080
1976 Requirement removed to change callsign if you moved to a different call area
1976 Microsoft begins business
1976 Apple 1 computer released
1977 Radio Shack TRS-80 released
1977 327,000 US hams; portable and mobile identification no longer required
1977 Instant upgrades became available, license fees abolished
1977 Experience requirement for Extra eliminated; Conditional class is abolished
1978 Novice term 5 years and renewable
1978 first Canadian experiments with packet using ASCII
1979 ICOM America established
1979 WARC Conference; new amateur bands at 10, 18, and 24 MHz (30 meters, 17 meters, and 12 meters);
known as WARC bands; King Hussein of Jordan, JY1, provides key support

1980s

1980 FCC permits ASCII, which enables packet for US hams
1980 Russia launches first amateur satellites, destroyed in launch failure; three years to replace
1981 Tuscon Amateur Packet Group (TAPR) formed
1982 First access to 30 meters for US hams; restrictions apply
1982 AMTOR (Amateur Teleprinting over Radio) developed; adaptation of SITOR for amateur use, offers
error-free communication
1983 Owen Garriott, W5LFL, takes 2 meter rig into space; NASA creates SAREX (Shuttle Amateur Radio
Experiment)
1983 first cellular telephone network in US
1983 1000-watt input rule replaced by 1500 watt peak output rule. Most modes gained power, but some (e.g.,
AM) lost power.
1984 License terms extended to 10 years
1984 Launch of Volunteer Exam Coordinator program
1985 PRB-1 provides modicum of protection from local government regulations regarding outdoor antennas
(does not override CC&Rs, though); “reasonable accommodation”
1985 24 MHz band and 902 MHz bands are opened for amateur use; 10 MHz band allotted permanently
1986 AEA releases PK-232; digital modes on HF explode (RTTY, AMTOR, PACTOR)
1987 Novice/Tech 10 meter SSB privileges from 28.3 to 28.5
1988 International Marine Organization (UN) establishes GMDSS system; effect is to end Morse code use by
both commercial (high seas shipping) and military interests
1989 17 meter band becomes available
1989 over 500,000 US amateurs

1990s

1991 No code Tech
1991 Invention of the Word Wide Web at CERN in Switzerland
1993 Coast Guard ceases monitoring 500 kHz emergency frequency
1993 Global Positioning System (GPS) achieves Initial Operational Capability (IOC)
1995 Vanity call signs
1997 Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) launched
1997 Kachina radio introduced; controlled via a PC; exits ham market in 2001
1990s Cell phones start to render autopatches obsolete
1990s World Wide Web becomes widely used
1990s APRS (Automatic Position/Packet Reporting System) becomes more popular
1998 Advent of PSK-31; uses computer soundcard and vastly opens up HF digital radio without need for
expensive TNC; the original software required extremely precise tuning;
1999 Many commercial CW stations close. Globe Wireless closes last coast station in North America to use
Morse
1990s Appearance of software-defined radios
1999 TenTec introduces Pegasus; requires PC to control; later released as Jupiter with self-contained front
panel

2000s

2000 FCC reduces number of classes to three: Technician, General, Extra; reduces code requirement to 5
wpm
2000 Digipan released; makes PSK-31 easy, PSK-31 use explodes, still most popular digital mode today
2001 First amateur two-way transatlantic exchange on 136 kHz, with 90-second dits and 180 second dahs, the
contact took two weeks to complete
2002 EchoLink
2003 ITU ratifies changes to Radio Regulations to allow each country to determine Morse code requirement
2006 All Morse testing requirements for US ham licenses abolished
2007 Over 652,000 US hams

2010s

2011 Montrose Ham Radio Club turns 50! (And IBM turns 100!)
2012 US ham population 738,497
2014 ARRL is one century old
2015 QST is one century old

Sources include the ARRL’s Ham Radio History page at http://www.arrl.org/ham-radio-history, several Wikipedia articles, the ham radio history compiled by Rod Dinkins, AC6V (SK), at http://ac6v.com/history.htm (he provides a list of many contributors), and the excellent and detailed history on the site of Thierry Lombry, ON4SKY, at http://www.astrosurf.com/luxorion/qsl-ham-history.htm.

UTC Time Conversion Chart

UTCEDT/ASTCDT/ESTMDT/CSTPDT/MSTPST
0000*20001900180017001600
010021002000190018001700
020022002100200019001800
030023002200210020001900
04000000*2300220021002000
050001000000*230022002100
0600020001000000*23002200
07000300020001000000*2300
080004000300020001000000*
090005000400030002000100
100006000500040003000200
110007000600050004000300
120008000700060005000400
130009000800070006000500
140010000900080007000600
150011001000090008000700
160012001100100009000800
170013001200110010000900
180014001300120011001000
190015001400130012001100
200016001500140013001200
210017001600150014001300
220018001700160015001400
230019001800170016001500
2400*20001900180017001600

Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is the time at the zero or reference meridian. Time changes one hour with each change of 15 degrees in longitude. The five time zones in the US proper and Canada roughly follow these lines.

* 0000 and 2400 are interchangeable. (2400 is associated with the date of the day ending, 0000 with the day just starting.)

Signal Strength & Reports

Terms

The term “full quieting” in ham radio usually signifies a good quality signal on a repeater or FM transmission – it means that your signal is clear, free of static, and easily readable by others.

The phrase Picket Fencing is used to describe the way an FM transmitter will cut in and out as it nears the capture threshold of a moving receiver or transmitter as it passes through fresnel zones, thus chopping the speech of the transmitting operator. It refers to the way portions of speech are stripped from the conversation, as if the listener was walking by a picket fence, and hearing a conversation on the other side that changes audibly depending on the position of the pickets relative to the listener.

This phrase is also used to describe the same audio phenomenon in digital voice modes which is caused by various methods including being on the fringe of a coverage range. In some digital modes this is caused by “packet loss”

Another term which isn’t as much about a signal report but rather why a signal could be bad is multipath. Multipath is the propagation phenomenon that results n radio signals reaching the receiving antenna by two or more paths. Causes of multipath include atmospheric ducting, ionospheric reflection and refraction, and reflection from water bodies and terrestrial objects such as mountains and buildings. Just as it sounds the signal is taking multiple paths and can result in the same signal being received at the receiver at multiple time delays. Digital modes tend to be more susceptible to multipath.

Analog

RST

Amateur radio users in the U.S. and Canada have used the R-S-T system since 1934. This system was developed by amateur radio operator Arthur W. Braaten, W2BSR. It reports the readability on a scale of 1 to 5, the signal strength on a scale of 1 to 9, and the tone of the Morse code continuous wave signal on a scale of 1 to 9. During amateur radio contests, where the rate of new contacts is paramount, contest participants often give a perfect signal report of 599 even when the signal is lower quality, because always providing the same signal format enables them to send Morse code with less thought and thus increased speed.

Obviously in phone or “voice” modes only the first R and S are used and often stated in the “5 by 9” fashion.

ReadabilitySignal Strength
  
R1 UnreadableS1 Faint signals, barely perceptible
R2 Barely readableS2 Very weak signals
R3 Readable with difficultyS3 Weak Signals
R4 Readable with no difficultyS4 Fair signals
R5 Perfectly readableS5 Fairly good signals
 S6 Good signals
 S7 Moderately good signals
 S8 Strong signals
 S9 Extremely strong signals
Tone
 
T1 Extremely rough hissing note
T2 Very rough AC note, no trace of musicality
T3 Rough, low pitched AC note, slightly musical
T4 Rough AC note, moderately musical
T5 Musically modulated note
T6 Modulated note, slight trace of whistle
T7 Near DC note, smooth ripple
T8 Good DC note, just a trace of ripple
T9 Purest DC note

Plain-language radio checks

The move to plain-language radio communications means that number-based formats are now considered obsolete, and are replaced by plain language radio checks. These avoid the ambiguity of which number stands for which type of report and whether a 1 is considered good or bad. This format originated with the U.S. military in World War II, and is currently defined by ACP 125 (G), published by the Combined Communications Electronics Board.

The prowords listed below are for use when initiating and answering queries concerning signal strength and readability.

ProwordMeaning
RADIO CHECKWhat is my signal strength and readability; how do you hear me?
ROGERI have received your last transmission satisfactorily.
NOTHING HEARDTo be used when no reply is received from a called station.
ProwordMeaning ProwordMeaning
LOUDYour signal is very strong.AND or BUT, depending on which prowords are combinedCLEARThe quality of your transmission is excellent.
GOODYour signal strength is good. READABLEThe quality of your transmission is satisfactory.
WEAKYour signal strength is weak. UNREADABLEThe quality of your transmission is so bad that I cannot read you.
VERY WEAKYour signal strength is very weak. DISTORTEDHaving trouble reading you due to interference.
FADINGAt times your signal strength fades to such an extent that continuous reception cannot be relied upon. WITH INTERFERENCEHaving trouble reading you due to interference.
INTERMITTENTHaving trouble reading you because your signal is intermittent. 

Digital

In the digital realm signal strength is irrelevant as it isn’t something that can be distinguished via the human ear. What can be reported upon is audio level which can be adjusted in a radio by the mic gain. Another item which can be reported on in some digital systems with forward error correction is packet loss. Basically the error correction isn’t able to piece the message together at 100% accuracy and therefore it results in choppy transmissions. We have all experienced this phenomenon with cellular telephones. This can be caused by many things, including weak signal, intermittent signal, multi-path and interference.

Repeater Use & Etiquette

This is mostly for new HAMs but it’s a good review for all of us.

RuleEtiquette
XID, using your call sign every 10 minutes and at the end of your transmission.
XLISTEN, listen, LISTEN! It is important to get a feel for who traffic is flowing on a repeater and how the current users are handling their conversation. You will always learn a lot by simply listening.
XPause between transmissions. “Quick keying” gives the appearance that other hams are unwelcome in your conversation, not to mention it prevents emergency traffic from breaking in.
XRepeaters can be open or closed. If a repeater is closed it is private to club users only. If you want to use that specific repeater, join the sponsoring club.
X Repeater communications should be kept to a minimum in case someone needs to use it for an emergency; always use simplex mode if you can.
Some repeaters are specifically for “rag chew” or just conversation. In these instances just make sure you are leaving an opportunity for others to get in.
X If you feel compelled to interrupt an existing conversation, remember that it is no more polite to do so on the air than if you did it in person.  Would you barge into a roomful of people engaged in a discussion without saying anything of interest? …or even worse, saying something completely unrelated to the topic of conversation?
XDon’t cough, clear your throat, laugh, or make little noises like hmmm or randomly saying yeah. Always be brief and don’t try to fill dead air. If you have nothing to say or nothing more to contribute back out of a conversation.
XXDon’t act like some sort of Broadcast Radio station.  Your fellow Amateurs  will most likely not appreciate such a blatant display of personal ego.
XWhen you need to break into a conversation, simply give out your call and wait for someone to acknowledge you.
XXIf you have an emergency, you may break into any communication on any frequency by saying EMERGENCY. Don’t use BREAK or BREAK BREAK, these aren’t universally understood. The word EMERGENCY is.
XTo make a call on a repeater to a specific person, give their call and then yours and wait for a response. If you suspect they may have a radio which is scanning, key up for a second before speaking and give their call twice before giving yours. Saying CQ on a repeater is frowned upon and may make you appear like a “newbie”.
XWhen doing a radio check, give your call and then radio check and wait for someone to call back. If you are just testing and don’t want a response, Give your call, then say testing, and then your call again and clear.
XKnow your own signal quality before responding to a signal or radio check. If you aren’t getting into the repeater or hearing it well, you aren’t going to be giving accurate information about someone else’s signal.
XThe word clear means someone is leaving their radio or shutting it off. Do not try to talk to someone after they have said they are clear.
X If one station calls another, and there is no answer, don’t be insulted if the calling station doesn’t respond if you “drop your call”. They may have been looking for someone specific and really aren’t interested in a general chat, or they may have moved to another frequency.
XXIt is no longer required by Part 97 to add mobile or portable to your call, but you will still hear those who do. While adding “mobile”, “portable”, or even “marine” isn’t required, there is certainly nothing wrong with continuing the practice. Doing so allows other to be aware of your circumstance and that you could drop out of range easily.
X Do not monopolize the repeater.  If 90 % of the conversations for long periods of time, night after night, include you and one or two others, something is wrong.  If other hams turn off their radios for big blocks of time because they can hardly talk to someone other than you, something is wrong.  You do not own, nor single handedly finance the repeater.  It is suppose to be a shared resource. Always welcome others into your conversations, don’t drive other people off the air.  You know who you are!
X Ignore those who cause interference and others who try to disrupt the repeater’s normal operation.  Without any reaction from the repeater users, they will have no audience and probably go away in short order.
X If you are someone who is the subject of frequent interference, it may be a sign that you are aggravating people with your operating habits.  This may be a sign that it is time for you to adjust your attitude and use of the repeater.  This isn’t always the case, but history has shown that those who have the most trouble with jammers are the ones who have caused the most friction among the repeater users.
XWhen IDing you don’t need to say “for ID” or anything of that nature. When you give your call everyone knows the reason for it. It is a waste of air time and redundant.
XBe upbeat and courteous.  Don’t complain.  This especially includes complaining about other hams, the repeater, or some aspect of the hobby.  We all deal with unsafe and discourteous drivers, please don’t describe their actions to us on the air.
XDo not use phrases learned on 11 meters such as “handle“, “making the trip“, “got a good copy on me?“, “the personal here is…“, “what’s your 20?“, “you’re giving me 20-pounds“, and other strange phrases which should stay on CB.  Speak plain English; this is not a cult.  The less said about 11 meters on the air the better. Many HAMs are a bit stuck up when it comes to CBers so it’s a good idea to avoid that lingo.
XXUse plain language that everyone understands. 2m and 70cm are interoperability bands. Q Signals and Radio short codes aren’t appropriate. 10 Codes, 12 Codes etc are never appropriate in Amateur Radio. Also on a repeater unless you have a weak signal phonetics aren’t usually necessary and take up precious air time. If requested, use them, otherwise don’t.

Part 97 rules forbid the use of coded transmissions in order to “obscure their meaning”. Anything you say on HAM radio must be able to be understood by all HAMs.
X Following a round-table, or rotation format is the best way for 3 or more to participate.  Don’t ignore people by not passing it to them for several turns.
XXDon’t kerchunk the repeater without IDing. It’s incredibly rude and illegal.
XAs with all amateur radio, NO politics, religion or sex.
XIt is not necessary to give the other person’s call when ending a conversation. This is wasted air time. The other person will give their call when they sign off. You will always hear the old timers do it this way.
XDon’t give out your call on a repeater and then just leave. Others might try to call you and this is incredibly rude. At least say clear so others know you are leaving.
X JUST BECAUSE OTHERS VIOLATE THESE GUIDELINES DOESN’T MAKE IT RIGHT. BE THE EXAMPLE OTHERS WILL FOLLOW. On that same topic, remember not to be the radio police. If others are violating these, don’t confront them on the air. Just be the example. Also remember, much of this is just a set of guidelines to help you be the best HAM you can be. Others may do things a bit different and most cases that’s okay.

United States CFR Title 47 Part 97

The United States Code of Federal Regulations, Part 97 contains ALL the legally passed rules for amateur radio. Anything else you come across is only a guideline or preference by someone or some group.

73’s, A bit of background

Many amateurs already know that “73” is from what is known as the “Phillips Code”, a series of numeric messages conceived for the purpose of cutting down transmission time on the old land telegraph systems when sending text that is basically the same.

HAM Radio “Q” Codes

Ever wonder what those HAM guys are saying when they say QSY or many of those other Q things they say? Well here is a list.

The Q-code is an international set of abbreviations that was created at the beginning of the last century to simplify radiotelegraph communication. Each code is composed by three letters always starting with Q. Each code can be a question if followed by a question mark or an answer (or statement) if not. To avoid confusion, no station call-sign begins with Q.

You will hear HAMs using Q codes on the air via voice, however this is not the place for it. Q codes are still used in CW communications, but using them on voice violates plain language principles not to mention it is jargon which can really chase new and perspective HAMs away. They have their place, it’s important to know where it is. Many HAMs still don’t, and I will be the first to admit, I was one of them until recently because I am not a CW guy.

HAM Radio Phonetics

The following are the phonetics which we use in amateur radio. You are likely to hear all kinds of craziness when we are in a hurry. These are the proper phonetics and you should practice them so that when you are hurried you will use the correct ones.

HAM Radio Glossary of Terms

Not all of these are exclusively HAM, but they are terms HAMs should know and be aware of.

73 – Ham lingo for “best regards.”

Alternating current (ac) – Electrical current that flows first in one direction in a wire and then in the other. The applied voltage is also changing polarity. This direction reversal continues at a rate that depends on the frequency of the ac.

Amateur operator – A person holding a written authorization to be the control operator of an amateur station.

Amateur service – A radiocommunication service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.

Amateur station – A station licensed in the amateur service, including necessary equipment, used for amateur communication.

Ammeter – A test instrument that measures current

Ampere (A) – The basic unit of electrical current. Current is a measure of the electron flow through a circuit. If we could count electrons, we would find that if there are 6.24 × 1018 electrons moving past a point in one second, we have a current of one ampere. We abbreviate amperes as amps. (Numbers written as a multiple of some power are expressed in exponential notation, as shown here.

Amplitude modulation (AM) – A method of combining an information signal and an RF (radio-frequency) carrier. In double-sideband voice AM transmission, we use the voice information to vary (modulate) the amplitude of an RF carrier. Shortwave broadcast stations use this type of AM, as do stations in the Standard Broadcast Band (535-1710 kHz). Few amateurs use double-sideband voice AM, but a variation, known as single sideband, is very popular.

Antenna – A device that picks up or sends out radio frequency energy.

Antenna switch – A switch used to connect one transmitter, receiver or transceiver to several different antennas.

Antenna tuner – A device that matches the antenna system input impedance to the transmitter, receiver or transceiver output impedance. Also called an antenna-matching network, impedance-matching network or Transmatch.

Autopatch – A device that allows repeater users to make telephone calls through a repeater.

Balun – Contraction for balanced to unbalanced. A device to couple a balanced load to an unbalanced source, or vice versa.

Band spread-A receiver quality used to describe how far apart stations on different nearby frequencies will seem to be. We usually express band spread as the number of kilohertz that the frequency changes per tuning-knob rotation. Band spread and frequency resolution are related. The amount of band spread determines how easily signals can be tuned.

Band-pass filter – A circuit that allows signals to go through it only if they are within a certain range of frequencies. It attenuates signals above and below this range.

Bandwidth – The width of a frequency band outside of which the mean power is attenuated at least 26 dB below the mean power of the total emission, including allowances for transmitter drift or Doppler shift. Bandwidth describes the range of frequencies that a radio transmission occupies.

Battery – A device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy.

Beacon station – An amateur station transmitting communications for the purposes of observation of propagation and reception or other related experimental activities.

Beam antenna – A directional antenna. A beam antenna must be rotated to provide coverage in different directions.

Beat-frequency oscillator (BFO)-A receiver circuit that provides a signal to the detector. The BFO signal mixes with the incoming signal to produce an audio tone for CW reception. A BFO is needed to copy CW and SSB signals.

Block diagram – A drawing using boxes to represent sections of a complicated device or process. The block diagram shows the connections between sections.

Broadcasting – Transmissions intended to be received by the general public, either direct or relayed.

Call sign – Series of unique letters and numbers assigned to a person who has earned an Amateur Radio license.

Capacitance – A measure of the ability of a capacitor to store energy in an electric field.

Capacitor – An electrical component usually formed by separating two conductive plates with an insulating material. A capacitor stores energy in an electric field.

Centi – The metric prefix for 10–2, or divide by 100.

Chassis ground – The common connection for all parts of a circuit that connect to the negative side of the power supply.

Chirp – A slight shift in transmitter frequency each time you key the transmitter. Also a radio programming software commonly used in HAM radios.

Closed repeater – A repeater that restricts access to those who know a special code.

Closed, or complete circuit – An electrical circuit with an uninterrupted path for the current to follow. Turning a switch on, for example, closes or completes the circuit, allowing current to flow.

Coaxial cable – Coax (pronounced kó-aks). A type of feed line with one conductor inside the other.

Color code – A system in which numerical values are assigned to various colors. Colored stripes are painted on the body of resistors and sometimes other components to show their value.

Conductor – A material that has a loose grip on its electrons, so an electrical current can pass through it.

Connected – The condition in which two packet-radio stations are sending information to each other. Each is acknowledging when the data has been received correctly.

Continuous wave (CW)-Morse code telegraphy.

Control operator – An amateur operator designated by the licensee of a station to be responsible for the transmissions of an amateur station.

Control point – The locations at which the control operator function is performed.

Controlled environment – Any area in which an RF signal may cause radiation exposure to people who are aware of the radiated electric and magnetic fields and who can exercise some control over their exposure to these fields. The FCC generally considers amateur operators and their families to be in a controlled RF exposure environment to determine the maximum permissible exposure levels.

Core – The material used in the center of an inductor coil, where the magnetic field is concentrated.

Courtesy tone – A tone or beep transmitted by a repeater to indicate that it is okay for the next station to begin transmitting. The courtesy tone is designed to allow a pause between transmissions on a repeater, so other stations can call. It also indicates that the time-out timer has been reset.

CQ – “Calling any station”: the general call when requesting a conversation with anyone. Like many other telegraph terms which originated on the landlines, CQ was brought over into radio and used as a general call to all ships by the Marconi Company. Other companies used KA until the London Convention of 1912, which adopted CQ as the international general call or “attention” signal.

Crystal oscillator – A device that uses a quartz crystal to keep the frequency of a transmitter constant.

Crystal-controlled transmitter – A simple type of transmitter that consists of a crystal oscillator followed by driver and power amplifier stages.

CTCSS – Continuous tone coded squelch system. A sub-audible tone system used on some repeaters. When added to a carrier, a CTCSS tone allows a receiver to accept a signal. Also called PL.

Cubical quad antenna – An antenna built with its elements in the shape of four-sided loops. Current — A flow of electrons in an electrical circuit.

CW (Morse code) – A communications mode transmitted by on/off keying of a radio-frequency signal. Another name for international Morse code.

D region – The lowest region of the ionosphere. The D region contributes very little to short-wave radio propagation. It acts mainly to absorb energy from radio waves as they pass through it. This absorption has a significant effect on signals below about 7.5 MHz during daylight.

Data – Computer-based communications modes, such as packet radio, which can be used to transmit and receive computer files, or digital information.

DE – The Morse code abbreviation for “from” or “this is.” Deci — The metric prefix for 10–1, or divide by 10.

Delta loop antenna – A variation of the cubical quad with triangular elements.

Detector – The stage in a receiver in which the modulation (voice or other information) is recovered from the RF signal.

Digipeater – A packet-radio station used to retransmit signals that are specifically addressed to be retransmitted by that station.

Digital communications – Computer-based communications modes. This can include data modes like packet radio and text-only modes like radioteletype (RTTY).

Dipole antenna – See Half-wave dipole. A dipole need not be ½ wavelength long.

Direct current (dc) – Electrical current that flows in one direction only.

Director – An element in front of the driven element in a Yagi and some other directional antennas.

Double-pole, double-throw (DPDT) switch – A switch that has six contacts. The DPDT switch has two center contacts. The two center contacts can each be connected to one of two other contacts.

Double-pole, single-throw (DPST) switch – A switch that connects two contacts to another set of contacts. A DPST switch turns two circuits on or off at the same time.

Driven element – The part of an antenna that connects directly to the feed line.

Dual-band antenna – An antenna designed for use on two different Amateur Radio bands.

Dummy antenna – A station accessory that allows you to test or adjust transmitting equipment without sending a signal out over the air. Also called dummy load.

Dummy load – A station accessory that allows you to test or adjust transmitting equipment without sending a signal out over the air. Also called dummy antenna.

Duplexer – A device that allows a dual-band radio to use a single dual-band antenna.

Duty cycle – A measure of the amount of time a transmitter is operating at full output power during a single transmission. A lower duty cycle means less RF radiation exposure for the same PEP output.

DX – Distance, foreign countries.

E region – The second lowest ionospheric region, the E region exists only during the day. Under certain conditions, it may refract radio waves enough to return them to Earth.

Earth ground – A circuit connection to a ground rod driven into the Earth or to a cold-water pipe made of copper that goes into the ground.

Earth station – An amateur station located on, or within 50 km of, the Earth’s surface intended for communications with space stations or with other Earth stations by means of one or more other objects in space.

Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) or Moonbounce – A method of communicating with other stations by reflecting radio signals off the Moon’s surface.

Electric field – An invisible force of nature. An electric field exists in a region of space if an electrically charged object placed in the region is subjected to an electrical force.

Electromotive force (EMF) – The force or pressure that pushes a current through a circuit.

Electron – A tiny, negatively charged particle, normally found in an area surrounding the nucleus of an atom. Moving electrons make up an electrical current.

Elmer – An individual who acts as an advisor or mentor to a newly licensed amateur.

Emergency – A situation where there is a danger to lives or property.

Emergency traffic – Messages with life and death urgency or requests for medical help and supplies that leave an area shortly after an emergency.

Emission – The transmitted signal from an amateur station.

Emission privilege – Permission to use a particular emission type (such as Morse code or voice).

Emission types – Term for the different modes authorized for use on the Amateur Radio bands. Examples are CW, SSB, RTTY and FM. Energy – The ability to do work; the ability to exert a force to move some object.

F region – A combination of the two highest ionospheric regions, the F1 and F2 regions. The F region refracts radio waves and returns them to Earth. Its height varies greatly depending on the time of day, season of the year and amount of sunspot activity.

False or deceptive signals – Transmissions that are intended to mislead or confuse those who may receive the transmissions. For example, distress calls transmitted when there is no actual emergency are false or deceptive signals.

Feed line – The wires or cable used to connect a transmitter, receiver or transceiver to an antenna. See Transmission line.

Filter – A circuit that will allow some signals to pass through it but will greatly reduce the strength of others.

Final– 1) The final tube(s) or transistors in an amplifier – – “I just put new finals in this transmitter and I’m getting a lot more power output.” 2) The last transmission in a contact before singing off – – “OK this will be my final for now,  see you again next time”.

Frequency – The number of complete cycles of an alternating current that occur per second.

Frequency bands – A group of frequencies where amateur communications are authorized.

Frequency coordination – Allocating repeater input and output frequencies to minimize interference between repeaters and to other users of the band.

Frequency coordinator – An individual or group that recommends repeater frequencies to reduce or eliminate interference between repeaters operating on or near the same frequency in the same geographical area.

Frequency discriminator – A type of detector used in some FM receivers.

Frequency modulated (FM) phone – The type of signals used to communicate by voice (phone) over most repeaters. FM is a method of combining an RF carrier with an information signal, such as voice. The voice information (or data) changes the RF carrier frequency in the modulation process. (see Amplitude modulation). As you might suspect, we use voice or data to vary the frequency of the transmitted signal. FM broadcast stations and most professional communications (police, fire, taxi) use FM. VHF/UHF FM voice is the most popular amateur mode.

Frequency privilege – Permission to use a particular group of frequencies.

Front-end overload – Interference to a receiver caused by a strong signal that overpowers the receiver RF amplifier (“front end”). See also receiver overload.

Fuse – A thin metal strip mounted in a holder. When too much current passes through the fuse, the metal strip melts and opens the circuit.

General-coverage receiver-A receiver used to listen to a wide range of frequencies. Most general-coverage receivers tune from frequencies below the standard-broadcast band to at least 30 MHz. These frequencies include the shortwave-broadcast bands and the amateur bands from 160 to 10 meters.

Giga – The metric prefix for 109, or times 1,000,000,000.

Grace period – The time FCC allows following the expiration of an amateur license to renew that license without having to retake an examination. Those who hold an expired license may not operate an amateur station until the license is reinstated.

Ground connection – A connection made to the earth for electrical safety. This connection can be made inside (to a metal cold-water pipe) or outside (to a ground rod).

Ground rod – A copper or copper-clad steel rod that is driven into the earth. A heavy copper wire from the ham shack connects all station equipment to the ground rod.

Ground-wave propagation – The method by which radio waves travel along the Earth’s surface.

Half-wave dipole – A basic antenna used by radio amateurs. It consists of a length of wire or tubing, opened and fed at the center. The entire antenna is ½ wavelength long at the desired operating frequency.

Ham – An Amateur Radio operator licensed to operate amateur radio station.

Ham-bands-only receiver-A receiver designed to cover only the bands used by amateurs. Usually refers to the bands from 80 to 10 meters, sometimes including 160 meters.

Harmonics – Signals from a transmitter or oscillator occurring on whole-number multiples (2×, 3×, 4×, etc) of the desired operating frequency.

Health and Welfare traffic – Messages about the well being of individuals in a disaster area. Such messages must wait for Emergency and Priority traffic to clear, and results is advisories to those outside the disaster area awaiting news from family and friends.

Hertz (Hz) – An alternating-current frequency of one cycle per second. The basic unit of frequency.

High-pass filter – A filter designed to pass high-frequency signals, while blocking lower-frequency signals.

Impedance – The opposition to electric current in a circuit. Impedance includes factors other than resistance, and applies to alternating currents. Ideally, the characteristic impedance of a feed line is the same as the transmitter output impedance and the antenna input impedance.

Impedance-matching device – A device that matches one impedance level to another. For example, it may match the impedance of an antenna system to the impedance of a transmitter or receiver. Amateurs also call such devices a Transmatch, impedance-matching network or antenna tuner.

Inductance – A measure of the ability of a coil to store energy in a magnetic field.

Inductor – An electrical component usually composed of a coil of wire wound on a central core. An inductor stores energy in a magnetic field.

Input frequency – A repeater’s receiving frequency. To use a repeater, transmit on the input frequency and receive on the output frequency.

Insulator – A material that maintains a tight grip on its electrons, so that an electric current cannot pass through it (within voltage limits).

Intermediate frequency (IF) – The output frequency of a mixing stage in a superheterodyne receiver. The subsequent stages in the receiver are tuned for maximum efficiency at the IF.

Ionizing radiation – Electromagnetic radiation that has sufficient energy to knock electrons free from their atoms, producing positive and negative ions. X-rays, gamma rays and ultraviolet radiation are examples of ionizing radiation.

Ionosphere – A region of electrically charged (ionized) gases high in the atmosphere. The ionosphere bends radio waves as they travel through it, returning them to Earth. Also see sky-wave propagation.

Jumper -A small piece of wire used to connect two parts of a circuit. In computers and other devices, a jumper may take the form of a smaller plastic piece with an internal conductor that fits over two circuit board posts.

– The Morse code abbreviation for “any station respond.”

Kilo – The metric prefix for 103, or times 1000.

Lightning protection – There are several ways to help prevent lightning damage to your equipment (and your house), among them unplugging equipment, disconnecting antenna feed lines and using a lightning arrestor. Compliance with National Fire Protection Association NFPA 780 Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection, is recommended to protect your house.

Limiter – A stage of an FM receiver that makes the receiver less sensitive to amplitude variations and pulse noise.

Line-of-sight propagation – The term used to describe VHF and UHF propagation in a straight line directly from one station to another.

Lower sideband (LSB) – The common single-sideband operating mode on the 40, 80 and 160-meter amateur bands.

Low-pass filter – A filter that allows signals below the cutoff frequency to pass through and attenuates signals above the cutoff frequency.

Malicious (harmful) interference – Intentional, deliberate obstruction of radio transmissions.

Maximum useable frequency (MUF) – The highest-frequency radio signal that will reach a particular destination using sky-wave propagation, or skip. The MUF may vary for radio signals sent to different destinations.

MAYDAY – From the French m’aidez (help me), MAYDAY is used when calling for emergency assistance in voice modes.

Mega – The metric prefix for 106, or times 1,000,000.

Metric prefixes – A series of terms used in the metric system of measurement. We use metric prefixes to describe a quantity as compared to a basic unit. The metric prefixes indicate multiples of 10.

Metric system – A system of measurement developed by scientists and used in most countries of the world. This system uses a set of prefixes that are multiples of 10 to indicate quantities larger or smaller than the basic unit.

Micro – The metric prefix for 10–6, or divide by 1,000,000.

Microphone – A device that converts sound waves into electrical energy.

Milli – The metric prefix for 10–3, or divide by 1000.

Mobile device – A radio transmitting device designed to be mounted in a vehicle. A push-to-talk (PTT) switch activates the transmitter.

Modem – Short for modulator/demodulator. A modem modulates a radio signal to transmit data and demodulates a received signal to recover transmitted data.

Modulate – To vary the amplitude, frequency, or phase of a radio-frequency signal.

Modulation – The process of varying an RF carrier in some way (the amplitude or the frequency, for example) to add an information signal to be transmitted.

Monitor mode – One type of packet radio receiving mode. In monitor mode, everything transmitted on a packet frequency is displayed by the monitoring TNC. This occurs whether or not the transmissions are addressed to the monitoring station.

Morse code (see CW).

Multimeter – An electronic test instrument used to measure current, voltage and resistance in a circuit. Describes all meters capable of making these measurements, such as the volt-ohm-milliammeter (VOM), vacuum-tube voltmeter (VTVM) and field-effect transistor VOM (FET VOM).

Multimode transceiver -Transceiver capable of SSB, CW and FM operation.

National Electrical Code – A set of guidelines governing electrical safety, including antennas. This Nationwide standard is codified into law in many states.

Network – A term used to describe several packet stations linked together to transmit data over long distances.

Nonionizing radiation – Electromagnetic radiation that does not have sufficient energy to knock electrons free from their atoms. Radio frequency (RF) radiation is nonionizing.

NPN transistor – A transistor that has a layer of P-type semiconductor material sandwiched between layers of N-type semiconductor material.

Offset -The 300 to 1000-Hz difference in CW transmitting and receiving frequencies in a transceiver. For a repeater, offset refers to the difference between its transmitting and receiving frequencies.

Ohm – The basic unit of electrical resistance, used to describe the amount of opposition to current.

Ohm’s Law – A basic law of electronics. Ohm’s Law gives a relationship between voltage (E), current (I) and resistance (R). The voltage applied to a circuit is equal to the current through the circuit times the resistance of the circuit (E = IR).

One-way communications – Transmissions that are not intended to be answered. The FCC strictly limits the types of one-way communications allowed on the amateur bands.

Open circuit – An electrical circuit that does not have a complete path, so current can’t flow through the circuit.

Open repeater – A repeater that can be used by all hams who have a license that authorizes operation on the repeater frequencies.

Operator/primary station license – An amateur license actually includes two licenses in one. The operator license is that portion of an Amateur Radio license that gives permission to operate an amateur station. The primary station license is that portion of an Amateur Radio license that authorizes an amateur station at a specific location. The station license also lists the call sign of that station.

Output frequency – A repeater’s transmitting frequency. To use a repeater, transmit on the input frequency and receive on the output frequency.

Packet radio – A system of digital communication whereby information is broken into short bursts. The bursts (“packets”) also contain addressing and error-detection information.

Parallel circuit – An electrical circuit in which the electrons follow more than one path in going from the negative supply terminal to the positive terminal.

Parasitic beam antenna— Another name for the beam antenna.

Parasitic element – Part of a directive antenna that derives energy from mutual coupling with the driven element. Parasitic elements are not connected directly to the feed line.

Peak envelope power (PEP) – The average power of a signal at its largest amplitude peak.

Pecuniary – Payment of any type, whether money or other goods. Amateurs may not operate their stations in return for any type of payment.

Phone – Another name for voice communications.

Phone emission – The FCC name for voice or other sound transmissions.

Phonetic alphabet – Standard words used on voice modes to make it easier to understand letters of the alphabet, such as those in call signs. The call sign KA6LMN stated phonetically is Kilo Alfa Six Lima Mike November.

Pico – The metric prefix for 10–12, or divide by 1,000,000,000,000. PL (see CTCSS)

PL – (Also known as CTCSS – Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System) A sub-audible tone system used on some repeaters. When added to a carrier, a CTCSS tone allows a receiver to accept a signal.

PNP transistor – A transistor that has a layer of N-type semiconductor material sandwiched between layers of P-type semiconductor material.

Polarization – The electrical-field characteristic of a radio wave. An antenna that is parallel to the surface of the earth, such as a dipole, produces horizontally polarized waves. One that is perpendicular to the earth’s surface, such as a quarter-wave vertical, produces vertically polarized waves. An antenna that has both horizontal and vertical polarization is said to be circularly polarized.

Portable device – A radio transmitting device designed to have a transmitting antenna that is generally within 20 centimeters of a human body.

Potentiometer – Another name for a variable resistor. The value of a potentiometer can be changed over a range of values without removing it from a circuit.

Power – The rate of energy consumption. We calculate power in an electrical circuit by multiplying the voltage applied to the circuit times the current through the circuit (P = IE).

Power supply – A circuit that provides a direct-current output at some desired voltage from an ac input voltage.

Priority traffic – Emergency-related messages, but not as important as Emergency traffic.

Procedural signal (prosign) – One or two letters sent as a single character. Amateurs use prosigns in CW contacts as a short way to indicate the operator’s intention. Some examples are K for “Go Ahead,” or AR for “End of Message.” (The bar over the letters indicates that we send the prosign as one character.)

Product detector – A device that allows a receiver to process CW and SSB signals. Propagation — The study of how radio waves travel.

Q signals – Three-letter symbols beginning with Q. Used on CW to save time and to improve communication. Some examples are QRS (send slower), QTH (location), QSO (ham conversation) and QSL (acknowledgment of receipt).

QSL card – A postcard that serves as a confirmation of communication between two hams.

Quarter-wavelength vertical antenna – An antenna constructed of a quarter-wavelength long radiating element placed perpendicular to the earth.

Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) – A part of the Amateur Service that provides radio communications for civil preparedness organizations during local, regional or national civil emergencies.

Radio-frequency interference (RFI) – Disturbance to electronic equipment caused by radio-frequency signals.

Radioteletype (RTTY) – Radio signals sent from one teleprinter machine to another machine. Anything that one operator types on his teleprinter will be printed on the other machine. Also known as narrow-band direct-printing telegraphy.

Receiver -A device that converts radio waves into signals we can hear or see.

Receiver incremental tuning (RIT) -A transceiver control that allows for a slight change in the receiver frequency without changing the transmitter frequency. Some manufacturers call this a clarifier (CLAR) control.

Receiver overload – Interference to a receiver caused by a strong RF signal that forces its way into the equipment. A signal that overloads the receiver RF amplifier (front end) causes front-end overload. Receiver overload is sometimes called RF overload.

Reflection – Signals that travel by line-of-sight propagation are reflected by large objects like buildings.

Reflector – An element behind the driven element in a Yagi and some other directional antennas.

Repeater station – An amateur station that automatically retransmits the signals of other stations.

Resistance – The ability to oppose an electric current.

Resistor – Any material that opposes a current in an electrical circuit. An electronic component specifically designed to oppose or control current through a circuit.

Resonant frequency – The desired operating frequency of a tuned circuit. In an antenna, the resonant frequency is one where the feed-point impedance contains only resistance.

RF burn – A burn produced by coming in contact with exposed RF voltages.

RF carrier – A steady radio frequency signal that is modulated to add an information signal to be transmitted. For example, a voice signal is added to the RF carrier to produce a phone emission signal.

RF overload – Another term for receiver overload.

RF radiation – Waves of electric and magnetic energy. Such electromagnetic radiation with frequencies as low as 3 kHz and as high as 300 GHz are considered to be part of the RF region.

RF safety – Preventing injury or illness to humans from the effects of radio-frequency energy.

Rig -The radio amateur’s term for a transmitter, receiver or transceiver.

RST – A system of numbers used for signal reports: R is readability, S is strength and T is tone. (On single-sideband phone, only R and S reports are used.)

Safety interlock – A switch that automatically turns off ac power to a piece of equipment when the top cover is removed.

Schematic symbol – A drawing used to represent a circuit component on a wiring diagram.

Selectivity -The ability of a receiver to separate two closely spaced signals.

Sensitivity – The ability of a receiver to detect weak signals.

Series circuit – An electrical circuit in which all the electrons must flow through every part of the circuit. There is only one path for the electrons to follow.

Shack — The room where an Amateur Radio operator keeps his or her station equipment.

Short circuit – An electrical circuit in which the current does not take the desired path, but finds a shortcut instead. Often the current goes directly from the negative power-supply terminal to the positive one, bypassing the rest of the circuit.

Sidebands – The sum or difference frequencies generated when an RF carrier is mixed with an audio signal. Single-sideband phone (SSB) signals have an upper sideband (USB — that part of the signal above the carrier) and a lower sideband (LSB — the part of the signal below the carrier). SSB transceivers allow operation on either USB or LSB.

Silent Key – SK. Euphemism for a deceased Amateur Radio operator. In the Western Union company’s “92 code” used even before the American Civil War, the number 30 meant “the end. No more.” It also meant “good night.” In Landline Morse, 30 is sent didididahdit daaah, the zero being a long dash. Run the 30 together and it has the same sound as SK.

Simplex operation – Receiving and transmitting on the same frequency. See duplex operation.

Single Sideband (SSB) phone – A common mode of voice operation on the amateur bands. SSB is a form of amplitude modulation.The amplitude of the transmitted signal varies with the voice signal variations.

Single-pole, double-throw (SPDT) switch – A switch that connects one center contact to one of two other contacts.

Single-pole, single-throw (SPST) switch – A switch that only connects one center contact to another contact.

Skip zone – An area of poor radio communication, too distant for ground waves and too close for sky waves.

Sky-wave propagation – The method by which radio waves travel through the ionosphere and back to Earth. Sometimes called skip, sky-wave propagation has a far greater range than line-of-sight and ground-wave propagation.

SOS – A Morse code call for emergency assistance.

Space station – An amateur station located more than 50 km above the Earth’s surface.

Specific absorption rate (SAR) – A term that describes the rate at which RF energy is absorbed into the human body. Maximum permissible exposure (MPE) limits are based on whole-body SAR values.

Splatter – A type of interference to stations on nearby frequencies. Splatter occurs when a transmitter is overmodulated.

Spurious emissions – Signals from a transmitter on frequencies other than the operating frequency.

Standing-wave ratio (SWR) – Sometimes called voltage standing-wave ratio (VSWR). A measure of the impedance match between the feed line and the antenna. Also, with a Transmatch in use, a measure of the match between the feed line from the transmitter and the antenna system. The system includes the Transmatch and the line to the antenna. VSWR is the ratio of maximum voltage to minimum voltage along the feed line. Also the ratio of antenna impedance to feed-line impedance when the antenna is a purely resistive load.

Station grounding — Connecting all station equipment to a good earth ground improves both safety and station performance.

Sunspot cycle – The number of sunspots increases and decreases in a predictable cycle that lasts about 11 years.

Sunspots – Dark spots on the surface of the sun. When there are few sunspots, long-distance radio propagation is poor on the higher-frequency bands. When there are many sunspots, long-distance HF propagation improves.

Switch – A device used to connect or disconnect electrical contacts.

SWR meter – A measuring instrument that can indicate when an antenna system is working well. A device used to measure SWR.

Tactical call signs – Names used to identify a location or function during local emergency communications.

Teleprinter – A machine that can convert keystrokes (typing) into electrical impulses. The teleprinter can also convert the proper electrical impulses back into text. Computers have largely replaced teleprinters for amateur radioteletype work.

Television interference (TVI) – Interruption of television reception caused by another signal.

Temperature inversion – A condition in the atmosphere in which a region of cool air is trapped beneath warmer air.

Temporary state of communications emergency – When a disaster disrupts normal communications in a particular area, the FCC can declare this type of emergency. Certain rules may apply for the duration of the emergency.

Terminal – An inexpensive piece of equipment that can be used in place of a computer in a packet radio station.

Third-party communications – Messages passed from one amateur to another on behalf of a third person.

Third-party communications agreement – An official understanding between the United States and another country that allows amateurs in both countries to participate in third-party communications.

Third-party participation – The way an unlicensed person can participate in amateur communications. A control operator must ensure compliance with FCC rules (this document is not an actual license).

Ticket – A common name for an Amateur Radio license. Also often used to describe the actual paper given to the licensee by the examiner at the time of passing an exam, which shows he/she passed.

Time-out timer – A device that limits the amount of time any one person can talk through a repeater.

Transceiver – A radio transmitter and receiver combined in one unit.

Transistor – A solid-state device made of three layers of semiconductor material. See NPN transistor and PNP transistor.

Transmission line – The wires or cable used to connect a transmitter or receiver to an antenna. Also called feed line.

Transmitter – A device that produces radio-frequency signals.

Troposphere – The region in Earth’s atmosphere just above the Earth’s surface and below the ionosphere.

Tropospheric bending – When radio waves are bent in the troposphere, they return to Earth farther away than the visible horizon.

Tropospheric ducting – A type of VHF propagation that can occur when warm air overruns cold air (a temperature inversion).

Unbalanced line – Feed line with one conductor at ground potential, such as coaxial cable.

Uncontrolled environment – Any area in which an RF signal may cause radiation exposure to people who may not be aware of the radiated electric and magnetic fields. The FCC generally considers members of the general public and an amateur’s neighbors to be in an uncontrolled RF radiation exposure environment to determine the maximum permissible exposure levels.

Unidentified communications or signals – Signals or radio communications in which the transmitting station’s call sign is not transmitted.

Upper sideband (USB) – The common single-sideband operating mode on the 20, 17, 15, 12 and 10-meter HF amateur bands, and all the VHF and UHF bands.

Variable capacitor – A capacitor that can have its value changed within a certain range.

Variable resistor – A resistor whose value can be adjusted over a certain range, without removing it from a circuit.

Variable-frequency oscillator (VFO) – An oscillator used in receivers and transmitters. The frequency is set by a tuned circuit using capacitors and inductors. The frequency can be changed by adjusting the components in the tuned circuit.

Vertical antenna – A common amateur antenna, often made of metal tubing. The radiating element is vertical. There are usually four or more radial elements parallel to or on the ground.

Visible horizon – The most distant point one can see by line of sight.

Voice – Any of the several methods used by amateurs to transmit speech.

Voice communications – Hams can use several voice modes, including FM and SSB.

Volt (V) – The basic unit of electrical pressure or EMF.

Voltage – The EMF or pressure that causes electrons to move through an electrical circuit.

Voltmeter – A test instrument used to measure voltage.

Watt (W) — The unit of power in the metric system. The watt describes how fast a circuit uses electrical energy.

Wattmeter – Also called a power meter, a test instrument used to measure the power output (in watts) of a transmitter. A directional wattmeter measures both forward and reflected power.

Wavelength – Often abbreviated λ. The distance a radio wave travels in one RF cycle. The wavelength relates to frequency. Higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths.

X – In electrical equations, this letter stands for “Reactance.”

Yagi antenna – The most popular type of amateur directional (beam) antenna. It has one driven element and one or more additional elements.

Z — In electrical equations, this is used to mean “Impedance.”