One of the most important features of life in our modern era is easy communication over long distances. Thanks to the advancements in technology today, we can easily pick up a cellphone to call someone hundreds of miles away, you can find out the weather in Hawaii from New York, and listen to thousands of songs on your mp3 player. We can even do these many of these things using wireless technology like that of bluetooth devices. We take for granted the ability to pick up a telephone or log on to the Internet and communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time. Unfortunately, this essential ability to communicate freely with others sometimes is unavailable to us due to natural disasters or being in a remote area.
However, there is one means of communication over long distances that is not dependent on outside services such as the power grid or the telephone system, and can be operated by individuals without going through any other intermediaries: the amateur radio service.
In the United States, the FCC grants licenses at no charge to qualified individuals who wish to make use of certain portions of the radio spectrum for their own personal use. (Most other countries have analogous authorities that do the same for their citizens and residents, so most of this discussion is applicable to you even if you live in a country other than the United States, although the details will vary with the specific country.)
Once you are a licensed radio amateur (or "ham"), you can use readily available, relatively inexpensive electronic equipment to communicate with people in your local area, the rest of the country, and even other countries throughout the world. To do so, you won't need to pay any usage charges, you won't have to sign up with any providers, and you can use this service as much as you like whenever you like.
Even in normal times, this can be a source of entertainment and enjoyment, as many thousands of amateurs have discovered throughout most of the last century. But there is much more to it than that. Amateur radio operators have proven their worth in setting up emergency communications systems in virtually every kind of disaster from earthquakes to floods.
Anyone of reasonable intelligence can get a license and learn to operate an amateur radio station, so long as they have the motivation. The cost of the equipment is relatively modest; a complete long-range station can be set up for well under $1000, while a local station can be as simple and cheap as a $100 hand-held transceiver. The tests for the license level that most people start with can be passed with a few dozen hours of preparation, and even the higher level licenses that give broader access to the long-range communication frequencies can be obtained with relatively small effort. In my case, I spent about 10 hours of textbook study and 40 hours of Morse code practice before I got my first license. Another 50 hours of study of the technical material and possibly 50 hours practicing Morse code was sufficient for me to upgrade to my current license, which is called "Advanced Class". Although those licenses are no longer issued, the General class license, the closest class to mine, is much easier to obtain than it was before the recent change in the licensing rules. The latter class also gives you access to the long-range frequencies that can be used to communicate with stations all over the globe.
Assuming I've convinced you of the benefits of amateur radio, the best place to start is with my step by step instructions on setting up an amateur radio station. Good luck, and maybe we'll meet on the air!
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