Saturday, November 22, 2014

Advice for Getting a Ham Radio (aka Amateur Radio Licnese)

[I wrote this somewhat long response to a question on a mailing list.  I'm sharing it here in case it will help anyone else.]

First, don't pick up a radio until you've passed your test.  It will be a distraction that will keep you from studying.  Plus, you are more likely to become frustrated with an un-programmed radio with no idea what frequencies to check for activity.  Amateur radio doesn't really have channels to flip through.

As far as passing the test, two ends of the spectrum have been mentioned so far, memorizing "flash cards" vs. reading the ARRL book cover to cover.
The first and second level exams are 35 question multiple-choice tests covering a bit of rules/regulations, operations practice, and a little bit of theory.  The complete set of questions that your 35 will be drawn from are published.  The question pool changes every four years and is freely available for download.

A fair number of the questions require memorization.  For example there are questions about what frequencies you can operate on. Once the material starts to sink in there will be more stuff that you just know because you understand it and not because you've memorized it, but being able to remember the frequencies remains.

The best way to prepare for your test depends on your goals and how you learn best.  If you like to read and want to learn, then reading the whole ARRL technician license guide (cover to cover) might be best for you.  Ideally, you want the most recent edition from 2014, that includes the new technician question pool that went into effect July 1, 2014.

If you want something a little more condensed and/or free, several people take the question pools and publish study guides with additional info to help you prepare for the test.  KB6NU makes his "No-Nonsense Study Guides" available in PDF here:   (Technician and General are free)

There are plenty of other resources including some audio podcasts that review the material for the test.  (There are probably lots of youtube videos as well, I haven't looked.)

The site that was previously mentioned is a great free place to review "flash cards" for the entire pool or take practice tests. It will keep track of what questions you've answered correctly.

Go ahead, try some of the questions cold.  If you are a good multiple choice test taker with a bit of a technology background you might get half the questions right without studying.  The tests are not that
hard.  You can get 9 questions wrong and still pass the 35 question test.

There are several places locally where you can take the test.  There is a test session at Columbia University usually on the third Monday of every month.  The next one is December 15th, which gives you plenty of time to study .

Many other test sessions can be found on the ARRL's site.  (Note: there may be exams offered by organizations that aren't affiliated with the ARRL that won't be listed there, like one of the clubs in Brooklyn.)

Finally preparing for the test won't give you everything you need to know to be an effective radio operator.  However it's an important hurdle to just get over.   Once it's out of the way, there are plenty
of people who can help with all the practical "Radio 101" to fill in all the gaps.

Hope This Helps,


Michael Lacy said...

That is good advice. I'm just getting started and do you have any pointers on what a new person getting started in ham should get for a radio? A Chinese Pofong UV82 model or something like a Yeasu FT60R? Either way thanks for the good info.

Michael Lacy said...

Just as a follow up I've been getting pretty good passing grades on practice exams. That is why I'm turning my attention to a radio. I will take my exam next month at universal radio it is right down the street.

rct said...

The Chinese made handhelds are inexpensive and perform pretty well. My first radio was a Yaesu VX-8DR, but that was just before the Wouxun, and Baofeng came out. I carry my Wouxun all the time.

The thing to do is get started reading thorough reviews to learn more about radios, their strengths and weaknesses. Check out Hans' blog, he posts lots of reviews and is pretty thorough in his testing. Look for other reviews as well.

rct said...

Which test(s) are you taking? Just the technician? If you have time start studying for the general test too. There is more practical knowledge, particularly electronics on the general exam.

rct said...

Good luck on your exam or exams. Note: there are many radio specific Yahoo groups. It's good to join the group for a radio you are thinking of buying to see what problems people are having. Some are likely just frequently asked questions, or things that are frequently misunderstood. other's are bugs in the radio, but you can find how people work around them.

Michael Lacy said...

I found out today that if I pass the technician exam I can take the general in the same day for one fee. I will check out hamgear. Thanks again.

I will start studying for the general exam.