How to Begin in Ham Radio and How Much Does It Cost?
by John A.
Ham Radio, is a worldwide interest enjoyed in by more than 2,000,000 men, women and children in many countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Mid East and North and South America to mention some.
It is a very enjoyable hobby that allows people from all walks in life to communicate with people around the community and the world.
It also provides an important function during times of natural disaster by providing communications links to communities where phone and commercial radio services have been damaged as a result of earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricane, flood and other natural disasters.
For instance, Hurricane Harvey in 2017 that struck the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast destroyed important communications links in many communities. Cell phone service was inoperable, the internet came down, phone lines brought down, TV and commercial radio stations knocked off the air.
Yet Ham Radio was the saving grace to pass on important information to citizens from local authorities.
Ham Radio operators from all over the nation stepped in to provide those vital communication links that were necessary.
Some operated out of their homes, others traveled to these areas devastated by the hurricane and set up their radio operations in communities all up and down the Gulf Coast.
And being involved in operations such as this, a new Ham Radio operator will find out the hobby is filled with folks who have big hearts and will help out when the call arises.
Like any hobby or interest, there will be some expenses. These costs can vary from inexpensive equipment to the sky is the limit. Many folks start out with a small handheld radio, a mobile unit in the car or inside the home on VHF, UHF and maybe some HF bands. VHF means “very high frequencies”, UHF means Ultra High Frequencies” and HF mean “High Frequencies”.
One of the first questions asked is how much does it cost to begin Ham Radio?
As a starting point, one can get into the hobby for $50 to $100. This amount will enable a person to buy a small handheld radio that is used on the 2 meter band (VHF) and/or 70 cm band (UHF) which is good for local communications.
Starting with this type of radio is a very good way to begin since the radio operator can test out his/her wings communicating over the air waves. And if the radio operator shops around on the Internet or at radio swap meets operated by local Ham Radio clubs, better equipment can often be found for reasonable prices that will be dependent on the specific radio equipment being purchased.
Buying a more advanced used radio might set you back $400-$500. However, this will not be your only expense. You’ll need to either learn to make your own antenna or buy one. Making your own antenna is a very good way to learn about the technical aspects of Ham Radio that you will need to know in order to pass the required Federal Communications Commission exam to legally operate your radio.
As a starting point to study for your Ham Radio license, the Amateur Radio Relay League has a series of study guides for different levels of licensing (Technician, General and Extra Class).
Many folks begin getting their Technician license since it is really the easiest license needed to get you on to the air.
The General and Extra Class licenses require more advanced study since the radio band privileges are expanded that allow the use of more radio bands and frequency ranges.
In each of the levels of licensing, the operator will need to demonstrate technical and FCC and International Rules knowledge that governs radio operation. As one progresses through the different levels of licensing, the questions become more complex in those areas.
Each of the study guides that can be purchased via the ARRL web site or Amazon for about $29 each plus shipping.
One word of caution, make sure you are buying the most up to date guide for each license classification. The questions will change over the years so it is important you study the correct guide for the year you plan to take the license exam. Otherwise, you may not do well on the exam if you study the wrong guide for any given license class.
The FCC licensing cost for a Ham Radio license is about $35 plus any fees volunteer examiners charge to administer the exam. Typically the charge for volunteer examiners ranges from $14-$20.
Obtaining a Ham Radio license is not a difficult endeavor. However, like anything worthwhile, it does take some effort to study materials in order to pass the exams. There are children who are 8-12 years of age who have their Ham Radio licenses. So, it should not be an overly difficult effort for anyone to obtain a Ham Radio license. Some folks study for all three classes of license and take the individual exams for all three during the same test session.
As far as radio equipment is concerned, some inexpensive radios like the Baofeng and Wouxun can be purchased for very reasonable prices. A new radio for VHF & UHF operation will cost in the range of $35 to $150. These are low powered radios that have 4-5 watts output and very good for use on the 2 meter and 70cm bands that are typically used for local communications. A radio for HF operation can begin around $200 and go up from there with radios that cost in the thousand of dollars.
These radios operate with higher power output and have many more features and capabilities that enable the operator to reach around the world and talk with someone either through voice (phone), through using Morse code, or in digital modes.
Another good way to get started is by joining a local Ham Radio club. Radio clubs are a tremendous source of assistance getting you started in Ham Radio. Many clubs have “Elmer's” which is another name for a mentors who can teach you about ham radio and help you find used equipment.
Also, some radio clubs have a “loaner” radio programs where they will lend a radio for a short period of time to get you started and allow time to find your own equipment while getting you on the air much faster in the mean time.
As a retiree, it is important for each of us to have a purpose in life and to feel useful. It is also important to keep our minds occupied with doing creative and meaningful things.
By not having a purpose in life or something constructive to do, all one is doing is practicing for death in retirement years. That’s no way to live. Ham Radio helps us stay feeling young by doing all of this. It is an enjoyable hobby that provides an avenue to socialize and communicate with people and to make new friends. And during those rare times, it provides a vital communications link during times of natural disaster.
In our retirement years, if we aim at doing nothing, we will certainly hit the target every time.