Before phones, and later the internet, took over, a major method of communication was via radio waves. Nowadays, communicating on different radio bands have become popular among hobbyist ham operators, ham radio enthusiasts, and preppers all the same. The reason for this is for their simple and dependable method of communication via radio signal. A Ham radio usually requires a ham radio license to operate since it’s a more powerful radio than a simple CB radio. Ham radio frequencies are better compared to FM radio stations than to a CB handheld radio.
Have you ever heard of Ham radio before? If not, we’ve got you covered. We’ll talk all about how radio amateurs got their start on radio broadcasts, the different radio technologies, and more about the Ham world. Welcome to 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.” or “civilian 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 a Ham operator broadcasting over the frequencies is not a professional. In fact, you must study, take a technician test, and earn a license in order to operate HAM radios legally on a radio band or on designated “ham bands”.
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 (like the National Weather Service for instance).
Whether it be for exchange of messages, experimentation, or private recreation, all these messages can be carried for free on non-commercial frequencies, monitored by the Federal Communications Commission. Most importantly, and for the focus of this blog, Ham radios are perfect in survival situations for emergency communication. That’s when you need to reach out to other Ham operators and get the lay of the land after SHTF. Local hams or a local club giving you regular radio communication might end up being your lifeline.
Why Use Ham Radio?
Ham radio is heavily in use today, even outside of the Ham community. Using the Ham radio spectrum is especially useful during emergency situations such as hurricanes, earthquakes or other disasters where handheld radios simply do not get the job done. Unlike cellphones or even digital data, Ham radio is working independently of a network of communication towers. Unlike a landline, Ham radio is independent of any infrastructure. As an aside, this makes Ham radio channels especially useful for maritime radio communications. 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 the Ham radio community to volunteer for things like parades and other events. Ham radio can be a fun hobby to get into. There are many Ham radio clubs and Ham radio stations across the country who welcome all ages and skill levels into the Ham radio hobby. while simultaneously building a skill that will help you communicate and survive in a SHTF situation.
What Ham Radios Do We Use?
At Prepper Base we are traditionalists. We stick with what’s tried and true when it comes to important communication equipment like a personal Ham radio. That’s why we aren’t the biggest fans of Chinese-made handheld-style Ham Radios. We prefer President Ham Radios. It’s the only brand we’ve ever used, and they have never failed us. Check some of them out here:
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- that radio waves were electromagnetic waves themselves. The core idea was that through gaining a better understanding of these waves, we can establish a dependable communication system. Fast forward to the 1990’s and we have Radio Shack! But we are skipping a bit here.
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, allowing Morse Code to be sent via mobile radios. Men employed by Marconi’s marine communications company 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. His company did quite well in the general mobile radio service business, as well as managing ultra high frequency uhf and very high frequency radio equipment.
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. Many Ham radio operators were stopped and even some commercial radio stations shut down. These were dark days for Ham radio operators. 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 and people were free to pursue their technician license.
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, mainly via AM radio band.
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.
From World War II up to the present, Ham radio has been steadily developing alongside other technology.
Shortwave radio has gained in popularity because it makes sure a portable radio. 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?
First- don’t do it without a Ham radio license! Second, determine what radio frequency spectrum you want to broadcast at. Typically you will choose between Very High Frequency VHF and Ultra High Frequency UHF. There are also high frequency or HF bands. The higher the frequency, the more power is usually needed to transmit and receive.
You need to gather up all the right power supply, radio repeaters, 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. And remember, keep things PG! Ham radio is a family radio service and a multi use radio service for the public. Keep the radio wave spectrum clean!
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
- Directional Antennas or Aerials
- Mini Weather Stations
- Home Towers
- 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!
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.