HAM Radio Introduction

The subject of HAM radio’s can quickly get confusing and overwhelming. This page will give some general concepts and then some specific recommendations, while keeping it in layman language as much as is possible. Here’s some basic practical data:


The origin of the word HAM is not really known but refers to licensed radio communication. The original operator has a decent understanding of electronics and knows Morse code. Today neither is necessary and today’s license only requires some basic understanding of radios. Below are links that will train you and tell you how well you are doing as you go on.

Before internet radio made worldwide reception possible we used a number of different bands all across the frequency spectrum. Anyone with an old fashion radio would see it list different bands and frequencies where you can listen to radio stations near and far.

Today we have some popular frequencies as they allow simple hand held radios with pretty short antennas. The range of the handheld is for a few block, but the range can be greatly improved with a simple home made ($10) or professional inexpensive antenna (~$100).

The (new) inexpensive handhelds can be had for $30-50, a great mobile for your car with much longer range is $330 while a very good base station can be had for $1,800. Used ones are aplenty and if sold by a HAM operator will probably be honestly advertised.

The need we are primarily looking at is to be able to reach other members and coordinate efforts especially during emergencies when other modes are not operational. The handheld have long battery life, take very little space and are inexpensive. If you are in an area with other members near by, as in within a couple of blocks, you can reach probably them. When you need to extend the range you get an antenna up on the roof, pull a cable down to a room, and then connect your handheld to it. Now you have a few miles range depending on conditions.

The output power on handhelds are typically 5W and have the antenna mounted directly on it. A mobile radio usually have around 50W, and a base station is typically 100W and up. A mobile radio can be (sort of) handheld with a motorcycle battery, and it can be used as a base station. Both requires an external antenna. On a car you can use a triple magnet mount which allows you to easily remove it. (Triple to effectively withstand high speed winds.)

The inexpensive handheld radios are Chinese and have been around for a good while now. The names are not what we are used to but here are a few popular ones. Baofeng, Pofung and Wouxun. The long time popular one is Baufung UV5R which is one of the early successes.  Model 82C is a good followup. (The company changed their name to Pofung which is still an odd name.) At times you can get an 8W version when it is available. The difference in range between 5W and 8W is not very big.

Wouxun makes one with a larger display called UV8D. All three are good and have some slight variance between them. Others exist and are usually OK.  The industry is in flex and specifying a single model is not all too practical as, for example, most have very small displays and that is hard to read for many.  The UV8D is one with a larger display.

The 5R have extra large battery available (at time of print) which will double an already great battery life to maybe months on standby. Great battery life are available on all we have seen. Amazon is a great place to buy these on.

We have standardized on a number of frequencies which are then programmed in so that you can easily select the one you want. A few people can help you with the programming.

Here are some links to web sites where you can study for the license. There are three levels of license these days. They are Technician, General and Extra. You start with the Technician license. Here you get 35 questions and you need 75% to pass. The common study time is 10-20 hours. In Clearwater you can take the test at no charge once a month, see right column at www.carshamradio.org.

You can own and listen on HAM radio’s but not transmit without a license. Here are some simple concepts of things you need to get enough understanding to pass the 35 question license test.

Here are some good resources:


Radio reception started with:

LF (Low Frequency) 500-1,620 KHz (0.5-1.6 MHz)
MF (Medium Frequency) 1.6-7 MHz
HF (High Frequency) 7-29 MHz

Then FM radio gave us 88-108 MHz

For television we got:
VHF (Very High Frequency) 50-225 MHz
UHF (Ultra High Frequency) 430-1,300 MHz

(Cell phones are located around 900MHz.)

KHz/MHz denotes an orders of magnitude of frequency. K stands for Kilo which is one thousand. M stands for Mega which is one million. Hz is short for Hertz, named after the fellow that discovered frequencies. Thus 500 KHz is 500 thousand hertz.

One rudimentary concept is that everything in this universe has a frequency. Each frequency has a wave length. A clean wave looks similar to the letter S lying down. Or half the digit 8, also lying down. It starts at zero and moves up and then turns down passing zero as much as it went up. One wave goes up from zero, then down passing zero and finally up to zero. That is one wave length, which is measured in time.

With today’s technology