Ham Radio License Requirements

By Sasha Alyxandria Rae

Getting a gig on a radio station can be a challenge and also can take quite a bit of time. But you can do your own broadcasting from home with a ham radio license. With the right study manuals and basic knowledge about radio, you can have your license in hand in a few weeks.

Fire, a microphone, home
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Learning the Basics of Radio

Many prospective amateur radio operators hesitate to go for a license because they fear that it requires an extensive knowledge of electronics. Not true. Although the licensing exam includes information on the basics of electronics and radio, there are no technical questions that would throw the average person. You just need to have brief knowledge of the fundamentals, something you can obtain easily by examining the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) website.

Studying for the Exam

Preparing for the licensing exam can take a small time and energy investment, but you can do it from your home. Organizations such as ARRL offer manuals you can purchase online. Others, such as HamTestOnline, sell software that walks you through the essentials. You can generate a sample exam for free or you can sign up for a two-year subscription and learn more about the industry. You can also take free practice exams from the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators to prepare for the test.

Picking a License Type: Technician Class

In the United States, there are three kinds of ham radio license: the technician class, the general class and the extra class. Beginners should take the test for the technician class license, which involves answering 26 of 35 questions correctly. The test covers everything from basic FCC laws on ham radio to good operating procedures. After you pass this exam, you'll be qualified to broadcast on frequencies over 30Mhz and a few lower frequency bands around the world.

Picking a License Type: General Class

The general class license is a more advanced license that allows the user to broadcast on any ham radio frequency worldwide. This license also requires knowledge of radio regulations and the theory of ham radio operation. As an operator on a higher frequency, you'll need to know this information to run your station.

Picking a License Type: Extra Class

The last type is the extra class license. This is the most advanced of the three but also gives the user the widest freedoms on broadcasting a signal. To pass this exam, you need to have a solid understanding of the most complex radio regulations and theories. The exam also entails answering 37 out of 50 questions correctly.

Where to Take the Test

Volunteer examiners proctor ham radio license tests year-round in the United States. The ARRL has a searchable database that allows you to choose from multiple locations and dates. You can also search the site for local ham radio clubs, which will not only give you great information on where to take the examinations, but also put you in touch with other radio enthusiasts. After you have your license in place, then it's just a matter of setting up your own ham radio station.

About the Author

Sasha Rae is an adventurer, storyteller and reseracher who has been writing and researching for more than 15 years. She is a contributing writer for Wise Bread and for The Compathos Foundation. Rae has a Master of Science in communication and society from the University of Oregon and a Bachelor of Arts in broadcast journalism from Kent State University.