Making It Legal

Yes, you need a license to broadcast radio signals.  Everyone does, excepting only some special situations where the signals cannot travel very far.  Commercial radio stations, fishermen, TV stations, satellite uplinks, aircraft, and all other broadcasters must be licensed. 

Why?  Because the frequency space for broadcasting is limited by the laws of physics.  Remember, no two broadcasters can be within range on the same frequency at the same time without causing a lot of trouble.  (There are very sophisticated ways it can be done, but not ways that are practical for us).  Having enough available frequencies is only possible with worldwide cooperation and rule-making.  It is a mark of the respect that radio hams have earned worldwide that some frequencies have been reserved especially for them.  The licensing ensures that everyone using this precious resource understands which frequencies are allowable, and how to avoid chaos on the air. 

Your license will not cost you anything except a small exam fee (perhaps $15), nor will there be any ongoing fees.  Renewals are only every ten years.  It’s a great deal!  It will provide you with the unique call sign you will use to identify yourself on the air, like my KD6GO.  To get it, you need to understand the basic laws you must obey, the rudiments of radio theory and practice, and some basic tips to get the most out of your radios – for example, the importance of a decent antenna, without which your signals will go nowhere.  And no, you do not need to know Morse code; that requirement was removed years ago.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) handles licensing in the U.S., and the process is as painless as possible.  Our government relies upon licensed hams to administer the exams, and volunteers do this locally all over the country.  The license you need is called the Technician license. 

The 35 multiple-choice questions you will need to answer are selected from a bank of a few hundred.  The ARRL website at will let you download the complete list of questions (with correct answers indicated).  Of course, this only checks what you learn elsewhere.  Better still, purchase an inexpensive learning guide with the questions, for $10-$30 from ARRL or an online vendor (search for Ham Technician License exam, and select a course that you like), and learn the subject matter properly.  It doesn’t take a college degree!  Some hams have been licensed since grade school. (It may even sound too easy, but if you know most of the answers to the 35 questions, you are indeed qualified to go on the air as a licensed amateur). 

Many amateur radio clubs offer evening or day-long courses of instruction, and attending one of those for a few hours might be all you need to finish up with a passing grade on the FCC exam.  And almost any existing ham will gladly help you get your “ticket”. 

Once you have your call sign, you are ready to press the button on your HT and call a repeater – or even set up a simplex contact with another HT user nearby.  I recommend you do it on a regular basis, because you don’t want your first ARRUMBA experience to be the first time you’ve ever used your radio.  Make your mistakes when there is no emergency, so you will not make any when there is.

Also, consider joining a local ham radio club, where advice and support are always available. You could learn other ways to use your radio, and perhaps even develop other interests using bigger radios!

Previous Page Next Page