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.
They aren’t issued anymore, but at one time emergency dispatchers (Police, Fire, 911, etc) had to hold a Radio Operators license. I was once a holder of such a license. Now these licenses are only used for radio broadcasters, like DJs and of course those who work on radios for a occupationally.
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.
Where to take practice tests
- There are also great phone and tablet apps for free in your android, amazon, apple, etc store
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 41
Lexington, NC 27293-0041