Beginner’s Guide To Ham Radio

Before phones, and later the internet, took over, a major method of communication was through the use of radios. Nowadays, radios have become popular among hobbyists and preppers all the same for their simple and dependable methods of communication. One type of radio that is popular among people who need a powerful communication device is the Ham radio. Have you ever heard of Ham radio before? If not, we’ve got you covered. Here’s Prepper Base’s beginner’s guide to Ham radios.

What is Ham Radio?

Ham radio, named after an old term for radio operators, is also commonly known as “amateur radio.” Amateur radio provides its users the ability to communicate with other radio users over the distance. Do not be confused by the term ‘amateur’, it does not imply that these people broadcasting over the frequencies are nonprofessionals. In fact, you must study up and earn a license in order to operate HAM radios. As a bit of a distinction in terminology, people who use Ham radios are called “hams,” whereas, “amateur” refers to the radio frequencies that are used. These frequencies are non-commercial bands, which makes these radio frequencies suitable for a number of things. Whether it be for exchange of messages, experimentation, or private recreation, all these messages can be carried for free on non-commercial frequencies. Most importantly, and for the focus of this blog, Ham radios are perfect in survival situations for emergency communication.

Why Use Ham Radio?

Ham radio is heavily in use today, especially during emergency situations such as hurricanes, earthquakes or other disasters. Unlike cellphones, Ham radio is working independently of a network of communication towers. Unlike a landline, Ham radio is independent of any infrastructure. And most importantly, its signal can reach an antenna much better than a cell phone can reach a cell tower. This is due to the Ham radio’s higher transmitting power, which cellphones simply don’t have.


You can also use a Ham radio to communicate with other people locally or globally, depending on the additional equipment. Some local municipalities also welcome Ham radio operators to volunteer for things like parades and other events. Ham radio can be a fun hobby to get into, while simultaneously building a skill that will help you communicate and survive in a SHTF situation. 

History of Ham Radio

Ham radio goes way, way back. Ham radio had its start more than a century ago. James Clerk Maxwell presented his theory about electromagnetic fields or waves in terms of mathematics, and a man named Heinrich Hertz came along and proved that Maxwell’s theory was true. This was the theory that the signals in a radio frequency were all the same electromagnetic waves. The idea was that through gaining a better understanding of these waves, we can establish a dependable communication system.

 

Around the 1900s, it was Guglielmo Marconi who made a breakthrough by adapting Hertz’s discovery. Marconi invented the radio-wave based wireless telegraph system in the early 1900’s. It was men employed by Marconi’s marine communications company who helped the survivors when the Titanic sank, sending out SOS telegraph signals. Marconi gained some notoriety for coming aboard to personally speak to the surviving radio operator when the Titanic survivors arrived in New York. 

 

World War I

During the advent of World War I in 1917, the Congress of the United States implemented an order to cease all amateur radio operations. It was only until when the World War I ended a year or so later that these restrictions were lifted. After World War I ended, all amateur radio operators were free to resume on-air activities.

 

First Trans-Atlantic Communication

In 1921, the American hams issued a challenge to the hams in United Kingdom to receive radio signals from across the Atlantic. Shortly after, American stations reached the shores across the pond and began to be heard in UK. That was quickly followed by a UK amateur being heard in the US. This marked the first transatlantic two-way contact between the United Kingdom and United States, occurring in 1923. In the following months, radio stations around the world began communicating.

 

World War II

During World War II, the order came down just like it did in World War I. The American government ordered the shutdown of all operations to all amateur radio operators. At the same time, the patron saint of amateur radio operators, Maximillian Kolbe, was arrested by the Germans due to the conspiracy that he was likely involved with espionage by the use of ham radio station. From his initial capture, he was held captive and eventually taken to Auschwitz in 1941. Pope John Paul II canonized him as a saint in the act of volunteering to take place of one of 10 men to be condemned by the Germans.

 

Modern Day

From World War II up to the present, Ham radio has been steadily developing alongside other technology. Ham radio has, however, been largely displaced by cell phones as a person-to-person method of communicating. Still, it lives on in many different hobbyist communities. And it’s a tried-and-true technology that’s worked in one form or another for other a century.

Ham Radio Licensing and Organizations

During its early days, nobody anticipated how ham radios would evolve over the years. At its inception, nobody would have imagined that someone would need to possess a license to be able to operate a ham radio. Everyone with the equipment was allowed to operate and communication with other radio operators without question.

 

However, as radio started to develop and has been proved to be a powerful tool in many ways, it was agreed at a governmental level that an individual must undertake a licensing exam in order to operate a ham radio- anyone listening can hear you, after all. After learning all necessary knowledge about the technology as well as the rules and regulations for broadcasting, the aspiring radio operator can take a licensing exam and get a license. 

 

There are three different types of licenses. The first and most basic license is the technician level, which is ideal and recommended for entry-level. After the technician level, an operator can then take extra level exams in order to help an operator gain more privileges. In short, the higher your ranking level is, the more privileges you attain. However, there are different licensing procedures for each country, thus it would be best to learn what’s what on your own soil.


Lastly, upon receiving your license, an operator will be given a call sign in a form of alphanumerical code to be legally recognized as amateur radio operators.


Organizations can local or global and many operators choose either of these two to be able to communicate with other radio operators, keep up-to-date with the latest trends and the newest changes in rules and regulations. Some of these groups also organize competitions for radio operators. One such competition is “distance dialing,” where the one with the most connections in a far away location wins.

How Do I Set Up a Ham Radio?

You need to gather up all the right equipment, tools, and take safety precautions. Set aside some space for your workstation in order to set up your Ham radio station and operate. In addition, you need to decide what type of frequency or communication method you will want to use. We will probably do a deep dive into VHF/UHF in another post if you want to get into the nitty-gritty.


Here is a list of the common Ham radio equipment:

  • Transceiver (your transmitter and receiver, the most important part of your ham radio kit)
  • Power Cables
  • Antennas or Aerials
  • Mini Weather Stations
  • Home Towers
  • Repeaters
  • Scanners / Receivers

There is also a ton more ham radio equipment that I simply have no idea about. I’m just sharing my knowledge and trying to learn along with you!

Buying equipment can be a significant investment, and nobody wants to waste money these days. If you are not quite sure what to start with, you can always look up online or ask someone with knowledge. We’ll have a comprehensive buyer’s guide up here on Prepper Base soon enough, but check out below for some good info to start with.

Considerations When Setting Up You Ham Radio

To build a fully functioning amateur radio station and start the journey to being a Ham, you will most need at least five basic components:

  • Receiver: Get listening! This receives incoming signals and allows the operator to listen to signals transmitted through different frequencies. This comes in forms of hand-held, desktop-oriented, etc.

  • Transceiver: This is the transmitter which sends out signals and allows the operator to broadcast or communicate to other running channels. A transceiver is the combination of transmitter and receiver into one unit. This means the operator can also receive incoming signals.

  • Antenna: An antenna is one of the most important parts of a ham radio setup. This is what allows the ham radio operator to pick up signals from different radio frequencies 

  • Antenna Tuner: This may be overlooked by many radio operators, but antenna tuners can be very useful. If you want your ham radio to be capable of both transmitting and receiving high-quality signals, then this is essential.

  • License: Yes, we’re talking about it again because it’s just that important. Before you do anything other that shop, you need a license in order to operate legally. Aside from playing by the rules, getting licensed teaches you how to manage a ham radio. It’s a bonehead move to try and operate without a license.

Ham Radio Takeaways

We are still only scratching the surface of the world of ham/amateur radio. There is a rich history of amateur radio going back nearly a century, and it’s a blast to get into. Perhaps we’ll go deeper into the importance of personal radio throughout history.

 

Today, people are all over the internet- you are right now! Folks are using their smartphones all the time, whether it be to keep updated with the latest news, play their favorite online games or communicate with their loved ones across the globe. Still, there is something special about the power and reliability of what ham radios offer.

 

I hope that you learned a bit about ham radios, their history, and what they are used for. But I really hope that you learned just one thing:

 

Getting a license and knowing your way around a ham radio is an excellent survival skill. 

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Kevin Fitzpatrick

Kevin Fitzpatrick

I'm Kevin, the founder of Prepper Base. Ever since I discovered Prepping, embracing the Prepper Mentality became my full-time job. I started Prepper Base as an information resource for anyone and everyone interested in Prepping, Survivalism, and Off-Grid Living. I have combed the web and realized that there's a lot of garbage out there related to Prepping. So I want to help you save time with no-BS information that can truly help when SHTF. I've combed through a lot of books and websites and dove head-first into the things that interested me. I hope you can find some useful prepping information here. I am always looking for new things in the Prepping world. Please drop me a line through any of my social media accounts if you have a current event, an idea, or new Prepping-oriented product that you think I should write about. Thanks for visiting!

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