It is surprising just how often radio frequency technology is used. Even though we are firmly in the digital age of the 21st century, radio remains – in all its forms – an important part of communications, entertainment, and daily life.
Radio is still a relatively young technology – the first commercial broadcasts were only 100 years ago – but is perhaps among the most widely-used forms of communication media of all. Radio can get where the Internet cannot. This brings us neatly to the purpose of the article.
Across the world, there are various bandwidths dedicated to ham – or amateur – radio. These are used for communication between amateurs and enthusiasts who enjoy radio and all the amateur airwaves. Different countries allocate different bands, and we’re interested in how ham radio came about and what it is used for – and you may be surprised at the answers!
How Did Ham Radio Begin?
It could be argued that ham radio began with Marconi making those first legendary broadcasts that proved radio was a viable medium. In fact, what Marconi was looking for was a way to broadcast long distances.
Early radio required a line of sight between the transmitter and the receiver. Even with a massive antenna, this limited transmissions to a few miles.
The answer came in shortwave radio, waves of a length that were bounced back to earth when they hit the ionosphere. Now, with a series of repeater stations across the world, shortwaves can transmit to the other side of the planet.
Ham radio uses a similar technique. Once the radio was established, it became clear that enthusiasts who broadcast to other enthusiasts required their own wavelengths to reduce interference. The ham radio movement was born, and it remains strong and powerful today. Let’s talk about the users of ham radio.
Who Uses Ham Radio?
It’s a good question: who uses amateur radio? The answer is that it is used by thousands of enthusiasts who broadcast for fun but also as a means of communication that can save lives. There are many occasions where the use of a handheld ham radio for survival does not have any alternatives. For example, we mentioned above that the Internet could not reach some parts of the world. Amateur radio can reach those parts and does so regularly.
People working in remote locations, those who need to keep in touch when they are stranded by the weather, and others who find that they are the only form of communication with the outside world when there is a national disaster.
Is Ham Radio Used in Emergencies?
Ham radio is often used in emergencies to communicate with the outside world. A recent hurricane that devastated a small town in the USA, for example, left all other possible lines of communication down. A local ham operator was able to keep in touch with the emergency services trying to get through.
There have been transmissions very recently from war zones that were the only forms of communication possible when the aggressor had cut the phone lines, taken over TV and radio, and switched off online access. These are reasons why amateur radio is important and will remain so until it is correctly replaced.
However, there is one essential point that we need to cover: you need a license to be an amateur radio operator. Different countries have different requirements, but just about everywhere ham radio is found, there is an exam – or in the case of the USA, a series of exams – that needs to be passed to prove competence.
Can I Become a Ham Radio Operator?
Anyone can become a ham radio operator, but to do so in the USA, you need to pass the exams that have been devised to prove you understand radio, how it works, and how to stay within the regulations. There are three exams in the USA – the lowest, the technician’s class, allows you to start operating as a ham radio enthusiast but only on limited bandwidths – and without passing one, you will not be given your username. Without this, you can’t broadcast.
Ham radio is an engaging and interesting hobby, and one that many people are surprised remains amazingly popular. Yet, it’s a hobby that can also directly help people in trouble if you happen to be on the right frequency at the right time. As you will see in that review we have posted, handheld ham radio sets are not expensive, so the way to go to try it out is to learn what you need to know for the basic exam, then get a pass, and then buy a cheap handheld to see what it is all about.
We hope we’ve helped you understand why there remain ham radio bands all across the world and that, quite often, they are not used only for fun.