This guest post is by Raybiker73 and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .
Not long ago, I read an excellent guest post on this site by Tom C titled “Understanding the Fundamentals of Radio Communication: Is Anybody Out There?” Tom pointed out the importance of understanding radio fundamentals, and provided some great starting points for anyone who wishes to obtain their amateur radio license.
As a recently-licensed ham, I understand how intimidating the idea of testing can be. I wanted to obtain a license for many years, but the test just seemed to be a bit too daunting. This past spring, I decided to finally jump in and give it a try… and I did it! Not only was I able to pass the entry-level Technician Class test, but I passed the mid-level General Class test as well. It took a bit of study, and it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible, either.
The other thing that I found intimidating was the Morse code requirement. Previously, each license level required an increasingly hard Morse code test in addition to the standard multiple choice test. However, the Morse code requirement is no longer part of the testing, which means getting your license is easier than ever before.
The hard part began after I passed the test. What radio should I get? Handheld or base station or portable? Should I build a dipole antenna or a beam antenna? Where do I get all this stuff, how do I put it together, and how do I get started actually USING it?
I’m sure I’m not the only one out there with questions, but I’m learning, and I’d like to share my experiences with those of you who want to learn as well. It’s not something we can complete overnight, but if we work together, I think we can figure it out. I’ll start with the first step in the process: preparing for the Technician-Class examination.
There are three levels of amateur radio license: Technician, General and Extra Class. The primary practical difference between the various license classes is access to frequencies. The FCC has established a series of amateur radio “bands,” or blocks of radio frequency to which amateurs have access. Technicians have limited access to some of these bands, Generals a bit more access, and Extras have full access to all bands.
So, you’ve decided that it’s worth a try, and you want to prepare for the Technician-class exam. The question is, where do we get started?
There are two books you will want to get before you do anything else. The first is the ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications (as mentioned in the previous article by Tom C). This is a book that will be on your shelf for many years to come, as it contains reference material and information useful to ham operators of every class. Think of it as your “Ham Bible” – if you’re looking for answers or inspiration, you’ll find it in here. This book is available from the ARRL at www.arrl.org.
The second book you will need is “Technician Class 2010-2014,” by Gordon West. West’s book provides the entire question pool for the Technician Class exam, all 394 of them (Don’t panic! Only 35 questions will be on the actual exam). Rather than just providing a list of questions and multiple-choice answers, West’s book organizes the pool into blocks of related questions, and provides the background information for each question. This book is invaluable in exam preparation in that it not only provides the entire question pool, but helps you to understand the rationale behind the answers. Where the ARRL book can be considered your Ham Bible, consider this book to be your Technician Class Textbook. You can find West’s book at Amazon or other retailers.
Finally, you’ll want to take some practice tests – nobody wants to go in cold, right? There are a couple ways to do this. Many sites offer online practice exams, but the best that I’ve found was the AA9PW site at http://aa9pw.com/radio/. There is a link on the main page there that will generate a practice test for any of the three exam classes, using questions randomized from the question pool. A practice test only takes about 5 or ten minutes, and I found that doing this a couple times a day when I had a moment to spare was a great help when it came time to take the real thing.
Practice test apps are also available for portable devices. The one that I found most useful was Amateur Radio Exam Prep: Technician, by Patrick J. Maloney LLC. This is available for iOS devices such as iPhone and iPad, and is available in the iTunes store. Exam apps exist for other platforms such as Android, but as I haven’t used them I don’t feel qualified to recommend any specific one. A simple online search will show a lot of apps for whatever platform you prefer.
With these three items in your arsenal – the ARRL book, the West book and a means of taking practice exams – you’re ready to take on the Technician Class exam! Again, it’s challenging but not impossible. If you study the materials a bit and take the practice exams, you’ll have no trouble at all.
Like most of you, I’m just starting on my ham radio adventure myself. In future articles, assuming the interest is there to support it, I’d like to go over the nuts-and-bolts of taking the exam, the basic electronic theories and components you’ll need to know, and preparing to upgrade your license if you so choose. I’d also like to take you all along as I jump into ham radio: choosing a radio, choosing and constructing antennas, and actually getting on the air to talk to people. I hope you’ll join me, and I hope to hear you all on the airwaves!
(disclaimer: any books or materials I recommend are ones that I’ve used. I don’t receive any compensation, nor am I in any way affiliated with any of the producers or publishers. I’m only stating what’s worked for me personally. Thanks!)
This contest will end on October 10 2012 – prizes include:
- First Place : $100 Cash.
- Second Place : $50 Cash.
- Third Place : $25 Cash.
Contest ends on October 10 2012.