Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, is a hobby enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions around the world. They enjoy communicating with one another via two-way radios and experimenting with antennas and electronic circuits.
All kinds of people are amateur radio operators, also known as "hams". Hams are young, old, men, women, boys, and girls. Kids as young as seven years old have gotten amateur radio licenses and many hams are active into their 80s and beyond. You never know who you'll run into on the amateur radio bands: young and old, teachers and students, engineers and scientists, doctors and nurses, mechanics and technicians, kings and entertainers. People from all walks are amateur radio operators.
For example, did you know that most of the astronauts sent up to the International Space Station (ISS) in the last five to ten years have been licensed radio amateurs? They use the amateur radio station on board the Space Station to communicate with school groups all over the world as they are flying over.How do you get into amateur radio?
With just a little study, your kids (and you as well) can learn all they need to know to get an entry level Technician Class license. There are plenty of resources available today to help, including many that are provided by the American Radio Relay League. They publish numerous manuals for beginners. One of the more popular manuals is "The Ham Radio License Manual", which includes all you need to know.
The Technician Class license is the most popular license for beginners. To get a Technician Class license, you must take a test with 35 multiple choice questions. The test covers basic regulations, operating practices, and some very simple electronics theory. That's all there is to it.
Technician Class licensees have all amateur radio privileges above 30 MHz, including the very popular 2-meter band. In addition, new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations have extended "High Frequency" privileges to Technician class operators opening up a world of long distance communication capabilities including the challenge of making contact using the time honored Morse code.
Many amateur radio operators then choose to upgrade to the General Class license. Amateurs with a General Class license are allowed to operate on shortwave frequencies, which are the frequencies normally used for cross-country and worldwide communication. To get a General Class license, you must pass a second 35-question multiple-choice examination. The written exam covers intermediate regulations, operating practices, and electronics theory, with a focus on shortwave applications.Ham Radio is a great hobby for youngsters
Being involved in amateur radio is beneficial for anyone, but especially for youngsters with developing, inquiring minds. They will, for example, learn about electronics and radio propagation; expand their knowledge of geography and enhance their personal communication skills. An interest in amateur radio gives them knowledge that will help them succeed in school and in life. It often kindles an interest in math and science, which can then lead to a career in science or engineering.
In addition to technical skills, young people will also learn social skills. It's often said that amateur radio is a "contact sport." In making contacts with other amateur radio operators, your child will make friends with other hams around the country and around the world. This, in turn, will help them learn about other cultures and the world we live in.
Amateur radio also teaches children the value of public service. Part of amateur radio's reason for being is to provide emergency communications and other public service communications. By taking part in those activities, your child will learn how satisfying public service can be.How much does it cost?
Basic study materials for passing the FCC test--including required manuals --and getting your first license--usually cost less than $60. Once you have your first license, most hams find it best to start with simple equipment and grow over time.
A handheld VHF FM transceiver can be purchased for as little as $80 new, and excellent used equipment is often available at low prices. (Ebay is a treasure chest of ham radio bargains) A fine dipole antenna can be hung in the trees with two long pieces of wire and some "coax" cable.
All things considered, the cost to get the first license and radio should be less than $200. For less than the cost of a video game system, kids will gain a hobby that will benefit them all through their lives.Conclusion
Simply put, Amateur Radio is a marvelous hobby. If your son or daughter has expressed an interest in amateur radio, we hope you'll be supportive. You may even want to consider getting a license of your own, so that you can share this experience with your son or daughter. Many parents have done this and made amateur radio a family affair.
You will be amazed at the many social and technical facets of this hobby. You will find opportunity to participate in the many operating events which demonstrate how hams communicate with microphones, computers, morse code, and a variety of digital techniques. Good luck, and welcome to Ham Radio.For more information
There are many good sources of amateur radio information on the World Wide Web.
American Radio Relay League (ARRL) (www.arrl.org). The ARRL is the national association of amateur radio operators in the United States.
AARC Jr. (www.ki3ds.org): An amateur radio club just for kids.
Reprinted from "A Parent's Guide To Amateur Radio" by Dan Romanchik with minor editing by members of PART
About the Author
Dan Romanchik, KB6NU, got his first amateur radio license at the age of 16. He is the past president of ARROW and the ARRL Affiliated Club Coordinator for the state of Michigan. Among his many amateur radio activities, he teaches General Class license courses and is committed to getting more kids involved in ham radio. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and his telephone number is 734-930-6564.
PART is a general interest radio club located in Westford, Massachusetts. Established in the mid-70's, it has served the town of Westford and surrounding communities for over 30 years.