Amateur radio is a hobby for everyone interested in communicating.
Overview of Amateur Radio
When the hobby began a little over a 100 years ago,
the only form of communication radio amateurs (they were then known as amateur wireless
experimenters) was Morse code, the same method used by the telegraph. This form of communication
has survived to still be in use today - and has become an international language enabling people
who can't speak the same language, to communicate.
Interest in amateur [transmitting] arose as soon as the radio was invented by Guglielmo Marconi.
Because amateur [transmissions] interfered with low-wave transmission of commercial and military
communication, the United States government instituted controls in 1911. Ham radio enthusiasts
were limited to the use of short-wave frequencies, which at the time was deemed to have limited
potential. After World War I, however, amateurs became active in experimenting, and by 1923 some
operators achieved successful transatlantic transmission over short waves. Over the years amateur
radio operators have provided emergency communication during natural and other disasters.
Up until the 1920's wireless telegraphy was the only way to transmit and receive information on
the airwaves. But radio amateurs pioneered voice communications in the mid-1920s at the time
when broadcast stations began. Although the transmission and reception techniques have changed
over the years with technical developments, voice communication remains the major method of
communicating on the amateur bands.
Amateur Radio operators come from all walks of life -- movie stars, missionaries, doctors,
students, politicians, truck drivers and just plain folks. They are all ages, sexes, income
levels and nationalities. But whether they prefer Morse code on an old brass telegraph key
through a low-power transmitter, voice communication on a hand-held radio or computer messages
transmitted through satellites, they all have an interest in what's happening in the world, and
they use radio to reach out.
Amateur radio is responsible for putting hundreds of thousands of people all over the world into
direct contact with each other every day. There are about two million licensed radio enthusiasts
spread across virtually every country, who are free to operate from the comfort of their own
homes. Age, profession, nationality, political and ethnic barriers are non-existent, thus
promoting international friendship and understanding. Amateur radio can be enjoyed by young and
old, male and female and even the most severely disabled can make friends around the world from
their own home. Contacts may be made using speech or Morse code, between computers and even by
television. Radio amateurs have built satellites for their own use. Because radio amateurs are
permitted to use a wide range of frequencies and types of transmission, they must be qualified
operators. Training is available from radio clubs or technical colleges, depending on the
qualification needed. A Novice License scheme available in many countries provides an easy way to
become a radio amateur.
What Can I Do?
Morse Code or CW Contact
Amateur radio can be enjoyed in many different ways. Some of the ways in which you can enjoy this
RTTY and HF Digital Modes
Using a series of dots and dashes transmission can reach further distances than speech (although
nowadays new digital modes such as PSK31 and PACTOR are more efficient than Morse Code but nothing
can beat CW for simplicity). It is also an international 'language' allowing contacts all over the
Using an old teleprinter and now their modern PCs, radio amateurs can communicate with each other
by typing away at their keyboards. This way they can have contacts (called QSOs) using Radio
Teletype (RTTY) or the newest mode PSK31. With other error correcting digital modes (AMTOR,
PACTOR, GTOR or CLOVER) and using a special modem and their computers, they can exchange data
files, mail or even access other radio amateur Local Area Networks in other countries.
Many amateurs link their home computers with their radios using a special modem (TNC) and contact
stations both either locally or worldwide in real time, or exchange e-mail or look at the bulletin
boards. This is the only mode so far that enables amateur computers to form a Local Area Network
and allows many to share a radio channel at the same time.
Live television transmissions can be sent and received by slow-scan (worldwide) or fast-scan (locally)
using a conventional video recorder, video camera or computer graphics.
International contacts are possible by using satellites orbiting the earth as repeaters of the radio
amateur signals. Radio amateurs take an active part in designing and building satellites for their
Similar to above enabling radio amateurs to bounce signals off the moon from continent to continent,
this is a very much more demanding and precise operation.
What Are The Amateur Radio Bands?
An amateur radio trip. This can be anywhere - from the North Pole to remote unheard of islands,
to your foreign holiday, or to remote uncharted jungles.
Who's The Typical Ham?
Look at the dial on a old AM radio and you'll see
frequencies marked from 535 to 1605 kilohertz. Imagine
that band extended out many thousands of kilohertz, and
you'll have some idea of how much additional radio
spectrum is available for amateur, government and
commercial radio bands. It is here you'll find aircraft,
ship, fire and police communication, as well as the
so-called "shortwave" stations, which are worldwide
commercial and government broadcast stations from the
U.S. and overseas. Amateurs are allocated nine basic
"bands" (i.e. groups of frequencies) in the high frequency
range between 1800 and 29,700 kilohertz, and another seven
bands in the Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra High
Frequency (UHF) ranges. Even though many Amateur Radio
conversations may be heard around the world, given the
right frequency and propagation conditions, Amateur Radio
is basically two-way communication.
What's The Appeal Of Ham Radio?
Amateur radio operators come from all walks of life -- movie
stars, missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, truck
drivers and just plain folks. They are all ages, sexes,
income levels and nationalities. But whether they prefer
Morse Code on an old brass telegraph key through a low power
transmitter, voice communication on a hand-held radio or
computer messages transmitted through satellites, they all
have an interest in what's happening in the world, and they
use radio to reach out.
Why Do They Call Themselves "Hams?"
Some hams are attracted by the ability to communicate across
the country, around the globe, even with astronauts on space
missions. Others build and experiment with electronics.
Computer hobbyists find packet radio to be a low-cost way to
expand their ability to communicate. Those with a competitive
streak enjoy DX contests, where the object is to see how many
distant locations they can contact. Some like the convenience
of a technology that gives them portable communication. Others
use it to open the door to new friendships over the air or
through participation in one of more than 2000 Amateur Radio
clubs throughout the country.
All Theories aside:
Although the origin of the word "ham" is obscure, every
ham has his or her own pet theory.
The three letters (H.A.M.) Refer in homage to the initials of the last names of three great
radio experimenters. HERTZ, who demonstrated the existence of electromagnetic waves in 1888,
ARMSTRONG, who developed a resonant oscillator circuit for radio frequency work, and MARCONI,
the 1909 Nobel laureate in Physics, who in the year 1901 established the first transatlantic
Have you ever wondered why we radio amateurs are called "HAMS"?
Well, according to the Northern Ohio Radio Society, it goes like this: the word ham was
applied in 1908 and was the call letters of one of the first Amateur wireless stations
operated by some members of the HARVARD RADIO CLUB. There were Albert S. Hyman, Bob Almy
and Peggie Murray. At first, they called their station Hyman-Almy-Murry. Tapping out such
a long name in code soon called for a revision and they changed it to HY-AL-MU, using the
first two letters of each name. Early in 1909, some confusion resulted between signals from
Amateur wireless HYALMU and a Mexican ship named HYALMO, so they decided to use only
the first letter of each name and the call became HAM. In the early pioneer unregulated
days of radio, Amateur operators picked their own frequency and call letters. Then, as now,
some Amateurs had better signals than some commercial stations. The resulting interference
finally came to the attention of congressional committees in Washington and they gave much
time to proposed legislation designed to critically limit Amateur activity. In 1911, Albert
Hyman chose the controversial Wireless Regulation Bill as the topic for his thesis at Harvard.
His instructor insisted that a copy be sent to Senator David I. Walsh, a member of one of the
committees hearing the bill. The Senator was so impressed, he sent for Hyman to appear before
the committee. He was put on the stand and described how the little Amateur station was built.
He almost cried when he told the crowded committee room that if the bill went through,
they would have to close up the station because they could not afford the license fees and
all the other requirements that were set up in the bill. The debate started and the little
station HAM became a symbol of all the little Amateur stations in the country crying out to
be saved from menace and greed of the big commercial stations who did not want them around.
Finally, the bill got to the floor of Congress and every speaker talked about the poor little
station "HAM". That's how it all started. You will find the whole story in the Congressional
Record. Nationwide publicity associated station HAM with Amateurs from that day to this,
and probably to the end time, in radio, and Amateur is a HAM.
The problem with this theory is that an exhaustive search of the Congressional Record turns
up no such speech, and the Harvard School has no record of the Amateur Radio station called
"HAM". However, The accuracy and inaccuracies of the Congressional Record in the early
part of this century makes it a dubious tool for proof or disproof. Before reforms were
enacted in this century, the rules of Congress were very lax. Enough so, that just about
anything could be "read into the record" by any member - - whether it was actually SAID
on the floor of Congress or not. Likewise members of Congress who knew the "right people"
and had enough "pull", could have certain NON-ESSENTIAL items REMOVED from the record,
under the guise of shortening an already impossibly large document. The potential here
for miss-use and abuse is obvious. Many members of Congress could appease their constituents
and special interests by claiming to have made an impassioned plea for their cause on the
floor, and pointed to the "Congressional Record" as proof. This led to many obviously
ridiculous [documented] paradoxes on "matters of record," such as speeches made by members
days or weeks AFTER they boarded a plane or boat which crashed or sank, killing them.
"Hams a poor operator. A 'plug.'"
That's the definition of the word given in G. M. Dodge's The Telegraph Instructor even before
radio. The definition has never changed in wire telegraphy. The first wireless operators were
landline telegraphers who left their offices to go to sea or to man the coastal stations. They
brought with them their language and much of the tradition of their older profession.
In those early days, spark was king and every station occupied the same wavelength-or, more
accurately perhaps, every station occupied the whole spectrum with its broad spark signal.
Government stations, ships, coastal stations and the increasingly numerous amateur operators
all competed for time and signal supremacy in each other's receivers. Many of the amateur
stations were very powerful. Two amateurs, working each other across town, could effectively
jam all the other operations in the area. When this happened, frustrated commercial operators
would call the ship whose weaker signals had been blotted out by amateurs and say "SRI OM
THOSE #&$!@ HAMS ARE JAMMING YOU."
Amateurs, possibly unfamiliar with the real meaning of the term, picked it up and applied it
to themselves in true "Yankee Doodle" fashion and wore it with pride. As the years advanced,
the original meaning has completely disappeared.
-Louise Ramsey Moreau W3WRE/WB6BBO
One holds that early amateurs were called hams because they liked to perform, or "ham it up"
on the air. Another proposes that the name came from the "ham-fisted" way some early
amateurs handled their code keys. One of the most exotic holds that "ham" is an acronym
from the initials of three college students who were among the first radio amateurs.
Perhaps the easiest to accept is that "ham" is derived from "Am," a contraction of "Amateur."
During the earlier days of radio communication, the government stepped in to control
frequency allocation of these new "short-waves", and allowed radio amateurs to operate
only on certain frequencies scattered in an among the other "authorized" frequencies.
Thus, the frequencies of Amateur Radio stations were said to be sandwiched "like the
HAM in a sandwich" between the other frequencies, and so Amateur Radio frequencies
came to be called the "HAM" portions of the band.
Some speculate the term "HAM" stands for "Help All Mankind" as reflected in the radio
amateur’s service towards people in distress during natural calamities, disasters and
Others believe the term "HAM" derives it’s origin from the late nineteenth-century.
English sports writers slang term for any amateur (in sports) was "am" (pronounced with
an almost silent "H"). It first came into the "electronics arena" from the
"wire-telegraphers" used by these sports writers. The telegraph operators originally
applied it to "cub reporters" or neophyte sports writers, who provided sometimes
illegibly written or poorly worded copy for them to transmit.
These professional news telegraphers had beginners and neophytes in their own line of work,
however, and oftimes the inexperienced new telegraph operators were called "HAMS", for the
amateurish way they sent messages. That theory is further explained in the following account...
This theory holds that the term "HAM" actually derives from what the seasoned commercial
telegraph operators called the hobby amateur radio operators. When the inexperienced
hobby radio enthusiasts began to venture on air with crude spark-gap transmitters, based
on vehicle ignition coils, their Morse code transmission must have been pretty poor
compared to the commercial telegraphs of the day. The commercial operators referred to
the amateurs by using the old telegrapher's insult of "ham fisted", meaning that they
weren't of professional skill. "Ham Fisted" referred to their style and proficiency of
sending Morse code which could have been done just as well by using a ham (cut of pork)
on the telegraph key.
Along those same lines of thought, came this theory linked to the stage and theater. "HAM"
connotes a meaning of "unprofessionalism." It came from the theater where it is used to
denote an actor of indifferent ability, or one who shows off his skill or lack thereof,
oblivious to his own ineptitude.
The following theory seems to combine the "ham fisted" and the "un-professional operator"
theories from above, but also adds a bit more insight as to why amateur radio operators
might be called "HAMS"
Ham: a poor performer. [in this case:] An operator of poor performance and courtesy.
Even before wireless radio, that's the gist of a definition of the word given in the
G. M. Dodge book "The Telegraph Instructor." The definition never changed throughout
wire telegraphy history. The first WIRE-LESS operators were landline (wire) telegraphers
who left their offices to go to sea or to man the coastal stations. They brought with
them their slang terms, and much of the tradition of their older profession. In those
early days, spark-gap transmission was king, in fact the only type of transmission
readily available, and every station occupied the same wavelength - or, more accurately
perhaps, every station occupied the whole spectrum with its broad spark signal. Government
stations, ships, coastal stations and the increasingly numerous amateur operators all
competed for signal supremacy in each other's receivers. Many of the amateur stations
were very powerful. Two amateurs, just working each other across town, could effectively
"jam" all the other operators in the area. When this happened, the frustrated commercial
operators would telegraph the ship whose weaker signals had been blotted out by the amateurs
and say "SRI OM THOSE #&$!@ HAMS ARE JAMMING YOU." ("Sorry old man, those (expletive deleted)
hams are jamming you’). The amateur radio operators, possibly unfamiliar with the REAL
meaning of the derogatory term "HAM", picked it up and applied it to themselves in true
"Yankee Doodle" fashion and wore it with pride. As the years advanced, the original
meaning completely disappeared.
These past few derogatory theories may well be close to the true origin of the term, but
it seems unlikely that amateurs would willingly adopt a term meant to be insulting to them
as their name. However consider this: There was an English professor back at UMD who
pointed out that "bad" or "insulting" words sometimes fall into a period of disuse, and
that disuse cause them to become obscure, setting the stage for them to be (ironically)
resurrected with more polite, or merely self-deprecating, meanings. Consider, for example,
the word "naughty." In Shakespeare's time, it directly translated as "evil" or "demonic,"
and therefore fell out of polite usage. In current usage, it's much more benign, and often
used to good-naturedly scold friends or children. It would not be implausible then, for
what started out as an insult to later become adopted by the target group as a self-deprecating
nickname to be worn with pride.
Hugo Gernsback, publisher of a magazine called "Home Amateur Mechanic" in the early days
of radio. Although it was primarily more mechanical in content, it did contain from time
to time, Amateur Radio construction projects. Thus when asked what sort of radio a
person had, the reply, more often than not, was he: "had one of those H.A.M. radios"
(using just the initials of the well known magazine name)
This became especially believable when you consider the Morse code practice of using just
initials or letters for many commonly understood words in order to shorten transmissions
and ease sending of messages.
Learn how to enter the worlds most fascinating hobby - Amateur Radio!
Amateurs view their appellation with considerable pride. To be considered a "good ham" is just
about the highest mark of honor there is.
For more information on amateur radio,
contact the ARRL or a local Radio Amateur.
For information on "Ham Speak", check out this link.
Credit to www.w7eca.org
, the A.R.R.L.
and the Google