What does HAM Radio Stand for & Why is it called ham Radio?

There is a lot of misconception on what does HAM stands for in Ham Radio Many people still don’t know why a HAM radio is called HAM Radio. This article is research and digs into the history to find out how HAM radio got its name.

Amateur or ham radio is a geeky hobby enjoyed by many across the world. It enables both short and long-distance communication, alongside offering many other exciting features. Most importantly, it works when several different modes of communication fail!

But, have you ever wondered why radio operators call it ham?

  • The first-ever mention of the word can be traced back to the year 1908 when it was first used during a call by a well-known operator. The three operators of the time were Poogie Murray, Albert Hyman, and Bob Almy that called their station the “Hyman-Almy-Murray” station.
  • Tapping in this extended code became quite inconvenient. Due to this, it was renamed to “HYALMU”, using two letters from each of their names. The new name worked for quite a bit until users began confusing it for the Mexican ship named “HYALMO”.
  • This confusion led them to change the title once again, and this is how the operators settled with “HAM”.

What does ham radio stand for?

Let us see what does the letters H, A, and M in HAM stand for. The word ham represents the initials of the three scientists that significantly contributed to the field of radio electromagnetic waves. The first letter, H, stands for Heinrich Hertz who was among the first to develop the theory of electromagnetic waves. The letter A represents Edwin Armstrong, who successfully invested in FM. On the other hand, the last initial M stands for Guglielmo Marconi who successfully transmitted across the Atlantic.

However, many people debunk these theories and question their authenticity. According to the book “Ham radio for dummies”, the word “ham” and its history can be traced back to when telegraphers used the term to describe poor operators.

When wireless communication was first introduced, many of its first users were landline telegraphers. That means that much of the terminology used today was adopted from the language of those old telegraphers. The growing number of users, and increasing competition among government, coastal, and other operators eventually became problematic. It would jam all other operators in the area. During this logjam, the annoyed telegraphers would send out a message claiming the hams were hogging the airwaves.

It is believed that amateur operators picked on the word ham without knowing the meaning behind it! It is thought that amateur operators picked on the word ham without knowing the reference or meaning behind it! Roy Wheadon confirmed this from personal experience through a letter that can be found in the July 1945 issue of the QST.

Our research found another theory that suggests it came about as a pejorative term used to ridicule those with poor Morse code skills. Ham-fisted or ham-ham described those that operated with heavy hands. 

Nation-wide publicity

During the initial days of amateur radio, operators could choose their frequencies. That meant some users got better quality signals, while several commercial stations dealt with interference. This issue was brought up by the Washington congressional committee which looked into ways to limit activity on these frequencies. Albert Hyman took up the Wireless Regulation Bill as his thesis topic and spoke about it at length. A copy of Hyman’s work was forwarded to a senator hearing the same bill.

Hyman even took to the stand in front of the committee. He explained how the bill could affect several small stations like his own that would not be able to afford the license fee. It began the debate on the bill and also led to his little station (ham) being accepted as the symbol for smaller radio stations in the States. Hyman’s efforts were widely appreciated, especially since it saved many smaller stations from closing down.

That day forward, amateur radio operators came to be known as hams.

While this story seems pretty credible to us, Wikipedia lists it among the false etymologies and rightly so. The Congressional Record displays no history of such a speech. However, we found an article on the “little station theory” that gives reference to the 1959 edition of the Florida Skip Magazine. We haven’t been able to locate the write-up or the magazine!


While some of these theories about HAM radio are implausible, we find the telegrapher conjecture a bit more probable, considering the reference available. Back in the days, the term ham was also used to insult theater actors – making it sound all the more credible!