What is a Ham radio and How to Use it? – Beginner Guide

Ham Radio has shown its presence in the world since the 19th century. Still, if you are wondering what ham radio is and how to use it efficiently, this is the article you should read.

What is a HAM Radio?

A Ham radio (also known as amateur radio) is a two-way radio that is used for personal or non-commercial communication. HAM radio plays a vital role during emergency situations like hurricanes, floods, etc. The radio signals are broadcast at frequencies assigned to the amateur radio service by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States and the International Telecommunication Union worldwide. It came into being through the modification of radio waves used to send information. It has transformed over the years from FM, AM, and police radio to now amateur radio. The most popular frequencies are the HF, VHF, and UHF bands.

Amateur radio is an exciting and popular hobby that brings people together. You can use it to communicate within a town, across the state, and even around the world. Hams are users from all walks of life. Several drivers, movie stars, doctors, construction workers, and rescue volunteers use it daily.

It is becoming an increasingly popular hobby among amateurs for simple reasons.

  • During disasters, when infrastructure gets damaged, individuals can stay updated using ham radio.
  • Several essential organizations like Red Cross and FEMA rely on amateur radio for circulating critical information.
  • Preppers and survivalists recommend using amateur radio during outdoor adventures to remain in contact during emergencies.
  • Apart from using it during crises, it also helps people traveling in groups.
  • The handie-talkie is pretty useful in areas with a poor cellular network and weak signals.

All you need is an FCC permit that can be obtained after passing the license test.

Types of HAM Radios

1.      Handheld

Handheld or HTs are affordable, beginner-friendly, and a top choice among preppers. These use up to 8 watts of power and typically access two bands, VHF and UHF.

When it comes to handheld transceivers, BaoFeng is a renowned brand. Their durable units with exceptional battery lives are perfect for outdoor travels. Most importantly, they are relatively cheaper than mobile and base units.

2.      Mobile radio

These are mountable rigs typically installed in the glove compartment or under the seat. Their power handling and signal range are far more than that of the standard HTs. Keep in mind; the mobile units need a larger battery and antenna.

You can find several removable mobile radios that are semi-portable, as well. If you’re looking for higher power output and better range outdoors, you can consider a unit like this.

3.      Base station transceiver

Many experts who outgrow the HTs and mobile units move on to the base units. These rigs get you on the HF bands and connect you with users thousands of miles away. Most users create ham shacks within their homes to set up the base transceivers.

While the set-up can cost an arm and leg, many find the experience well worth the price. If you’re lucky, you may find great deals on used equipment that, in most cases, is as good as new.

How to Use a Ham Radio

The HAM Radio platform serves the same purpose as a social networking site. It connects people of all backgrounds from across the world. The world of amateur radio is pretty diverse and extensive. Many users use it for DX-ing contests. DX stands for distance, but here DX-ing stands for a popular activity among most hams. It is the practice of finding contact furthest away from the user. There are several contests each year for this where prestigious awards are handed out to participants.

Other hams like to experiment with the equipment and develop their rigs using building kits available. You can find tutorials and guides online on how to build antennas from scratch.

I use ham radio to receive critical information during emergencies. When the cellular network was swamped and unreliable at the time of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, operators received timely information through ham radio.

Many operators aren’t aware that you can also use your transceiver to contact the International Space Radio station. All you need is your HT with a tall, Yagi antenna.

Another excellent use of the handie-talkie is radio scanning. You can listen in on radio bands.

Cost of Ham Radios

Although ham radio is not as expensive as it once used to be, it does involve powerful equipment that becomes slightly heavy on the pocket. However, if the cost is a significant concern for you, you need not worry. Different types of ham radios are available in different price brackets.

You can find a handheld, portable unit for under $50, as well. For budget buyers, it is recommended that you set aside the following amount:

  • Approximate $25 for the Technician license exam course.
  • $15 for the license fee.
  • $30-60 for a VHF/UHF handheld transceiver.

However, if you’re interested in the real deal and want a transceiver for your vehicle, get ready to shell out around $500. If you want to uplift your device, you can consider adding a receiver, speaker, external antenna, and antenna tuner. These additional accessories can improve your experience dramatically and increase the cost by a few hundred.

If you are wondering what are the best ham radios out there, we would say it depends upon your need. BaoFeng BF-F8HP and ICOM 7300 02 are some of the top picks to start your HAM journey.


Before this article on ‘What is Ham radio’ and its uses, we would like to tell you that this is a hobby you should start if you are a tech-enthusiast. Amateur radio has been around for quite some time now. The hobby has managed to allure millions of users across the globe. With the rapid innovations in technology, we can expect more and more people to jump on the bandwagon.