What is Ham Radio? ------- How can you get into Ham Radio?
In it’s simplest form, amateur radio is about communicating with other people via radio frequencies. However, as a hobby, ham radio covers many aspects of communications. Everything from talking across the street with an inexpensive handie talkie (HT) to bouncing signals off of satellites and the moon and all that lies between those two extremes.
In addition, there are contests, fox hunts, social activities, emergency preparedness, and any number of other activities within the hobby. Amateur Radio is a very diverse hobby considering that it’s about communicating via radio waves.
Ask a group of 20 hams why they got into the hobby and you’ll likely get 20 different answers – there’s just so much to do and try. That is probably why most people that get into the hobby do so over their lifetime depending on how young they were when they got their first license. Just like life, interest in ham radio grows and declines depending on a person’s life experience. It’s not uncommon to find ham radio operators just getting back into the hobby after an absence of years or even decades.
These days, one of the most common motivations to get into the hobby is disaster or emergency preparedness. In the event of a major emergency situation, oftentimes, normal communications such as cell phones and the Internet become compromised. It is in these types of situations that ham radio operators are able to set up radios, establish communications with entities outside of the affected area as well as within the affected area, and provide needed essential communications and health and welfare communications. All of this is done by volunteers from within the amateur radio community.
Why should I get into Ham Radio?
The reasons for getting into the hobby are as diverse as the people that are involved. Some people want to help their local community by supporting emergency communications or getting involved helping with local events such as parades and sporting events. Others are more interested in the competitive aspects of contesting and fox hunting, others are intrigued by the satisfaction of exercising their technical skills by building some or all of their own equipment. Whatever the need or desire, there is usually a way to satisfy it by participating in the hobby.
What is HiDARG?
HiDARG is the High Desert Amateur Radio Group – a local non-profit organization dedicated to promoting ham radio and educational outreach to the local community. HiDARG supports other local organizations such as Deschutes County ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services), the COARECT group in the LaPine area, and the Region 7 Hospital Preparedness Program(R7HPP) to name just a few. HiDARG supports and maintains a linked repeater system that covers a large part of central and eastern Oregon. The repeater system is used to support member activities and also allows us to provide direct communications support to the R7HPP as well as Deschutes County ARES and the local communities that make up Central Oregon.
History – Central Oregon Radio Amateurs (CORA) was the first local ham radio organization and existed for decades. Two other organizations were birthed by CORA in the late 80’ early 90’s – Central Oregon DX Club(CODXC), and the High Desert Amateur Radio Group(HiDARG). About 8 or 9 years ago, CORA was merged into HiDARG and became part of our history. Initially, HiDARG was called the High Desert Emergency Radio Group (HiDERG), however, when the founders went to apply for non-profit status they were told that having the word “emergency” in their name would prevent the insurance companies from wanting to provide coverage for the group. So the name was changed and it became HiDARG.
How do I get Licensed?
Getting an amateur radio license is easy. These days there are 3 different class licenses you can get: Technician, General, and Extra. The tests were originally administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a small fee is charged. Now the FCC has allowed the ham radio community to administrate the testing process and turn the results over to them to issue the actual license.
Technician is the beginner level license, but don’t let the term beginner throw you. Technicians can communicate worldwide just like the higher class licenses, they just do it a little differently than Generals and Extras.
The General license gives you most of what you would get with an Extra license minus some sections in the band plan that are reserved exclusively for the Extra licenses. The traditional model or understanding of what ham radio is about revolves around the General and Extra licenses access to the HF or High Frequency bands. This activity is what has traditionally defined ham radio for the general public – HF operations. Technicians have limited access to the HF bands but they have full access to everything above 50 MHz or the 6m band.
The highest license class gives you ALL of the access that amateur radio offers in the United States – that is the Extra license. The Extra licensee is considered the most knowledgeable about amateur radio and as a result of that knowledge is granted ALL of the access that is available to ham radio operators including specific sections of the HF band plan that are reserved for Extra's exclusive use. In years past, the Extra licensee also had to demonstrate advanced skill in the use of Morse code to get that coveted license
To get licensed involves taking and passing a multiple choice test for each license class. The Technician license and the General license tests both use a 35 question test, the Extra license test requires 50 questions and each license level requires more knowledge and math. The questions are standardized and there is a pool of questions to draw from for each license.
The process is to contact the local testing authority, determine when the next test session is, study, and take the test. Testing is $15 per session whether you take just one element test or all 3 which would allow you to go from no license to Extra in one testing session. We don’t usually recommend that, but if you have the knowledge and confidence, you are certainly welcome to try and pass all three elements at once. Most people will content themselves with doing one at a time with a delay of weeks, months, or even years in between. The process also used to require a Morse code test for each license class, but over the last 10 years or so the Morse code requirement has been done away with.
How Can HiDARG help?
One of HiDARG’s members (Joe Barry – K7SQ), is responsible for organizing the FCC test sessions locally. Joe has set up a regular test schedule with testing about every 6 weeks or so. Joe can also accommodate testing that doesn’t fit in the schedule if you are unable to attend one of the scheduled test sessions. In addition to helping with the testing, HiDARG is also making resources available to anyone wanting to get licensed. In the past we have offered classes and we are now looking at also offering tutoring sessions, and other options for getting any interested parties licensed in a timely manner.