Beyond CB: Amateur Radio
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By: Jeff Yokomura - 9/2001

American Radio Relay League, a national organization for Amateur Radio.

You've heard about CB, but have you heard about Amateur radio? Think of Amateur radio or "Ham" radio as the bigger brother to CB. CB's are limited to 4 watts of power on AM. On AM, they are limited to 12 watts on Single-Side Band or SSB. So what does this mean? The Federal Communication Commission (the FCC) limits how far you can communicate with your CB Radio to 155.3 miles, but realistically it's more like 5 miles. Some people boost the signal with what's referred to as a Linear Amplifier. This can increase the power anywhere from 25 watts to 1000 watts. The down side is that Linear Amplification is illegal and could cost you up to $10,000 in fines. So, use a Linear Amp at your own risk. If you are frustrated with the amount of channel congestion on CB, then Ham radio might be for you. Ham radio is a natural step up for those of you who would like to be able to converse long distances. How far? Well, Ham radio has several groups of frequencies that are sorted together in what are called "bands." 2 meter, 70 centimeter and 10 meter just a few of these bands. Through the use of a repeater station, the right band, and the right type of antenna, you could get anywhere from a few miles to several thousand miles.

Courtsy of Yaesu
Here is a typical base station. This Model FT-1000 from Yaesu is able to cover and scan just about all the frequencies.


Handhelds like this are great for backpacking while also being able to use in a vehicle. They can be combined with a larger antenna and run off your vehicle's power.

Unlike CB, Ham requires that you pass a test. The test questions are in the public domain, which allows you to see them in advance. The questions will range from basic electronics to more specific questions, such as knowing which frequencies are in which bands. There are also several different classes depending on skill level. The first is Technician Class. This is the entry level license, and it will get you on the air without too much trouble. The FCC has reduced the requirements for the Tech license so it is even easier to pass. With this license, you have the option to learn Morse Code. I'm sure some of you who were in scouts remember learning it. If you pass a simple 5 wpm test, you will be given usage of a wider range of bands. After gaining a Tech license and learning Morse Code, you can go on to General class. Since the Morse code test certificate only lasts a year before having to renew it, it's a good idea to go ahead and get your General license. After studying even more you can go for your Extra Class License. Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? Well, yes it is, but if you're really interested it can be fun. For 4x4 enthusiasts though, a Technician Class License will be enough, but don't let that stop you from getting code and General or even Extra. A good book to check out is Now You're Talking! : All You Need to Get Your First Ham Radio License by Larry D. Wolfgang. It's in its fourth edition and is put out by the American Radio Relay League, which is the official club for Amateur radio users in the US. This book will give you the basics on preparing for your Tech License and offer you a better understanding of what is available to you as a "Ham."

Courtasy of Icom
This is a typical 2m/70 cm. mobile unit. It can also be used as a base station. This Icom model has a remote face plate, making it easier to mount.

So once you get your license, what do you do? Well, get your gear together, of course! You will have a few choices: Handhelds, Mobile or Base. Handhelds are similar to those walkie talkies everyone used to carry around. They typically have power ratings of 0.5 watts, 2.5 watts, or 5 watts, and can be as small as a FRS radio. You also have the option to use a the radio as a mobile with a seperate antenna and DC power adapter. By the way, FRS radios are limited to 0.5 watts of power. Also, FRS uses some space in the 70cm bandwidth that Hams use. Some Ham radios are also able to pick up FRS, but it is illegal to transmit with a radio that is not type specific. Mobile Ham stations are usually mounted in a vehicle. Unlike handhelds, mobiles are able to switch between 5 watts, 10 watts, 25 watts, and 50 watts of power. Base stations can use a lot more power but are impractical for us so we'll just concentrate on mobile radios. There are many different models from many different brands. Try to stick with name brands like Icom, Yaesu and Kenwood. Now that you've chosen a type and brand, you've got to choose what "band" you want to use. Most people choose 2m with 70 cm. for their first radio. There are also single-band radios that just do 2m, 70 cm. With a Technicians Class License you'll be limited to VHF and UHF, which are all the frequencies above 50MHz. With Morse Code, you will have limited use of HF frequencies on the 80, 40 15 and 10 meter bands. General Class operators are authorized to operate on any frequency in the 160, 30, 17, 12, and 10 meter bands. you may also use significant segments of the 80, 40, 20, and 15 meter bands. And with a Extra class license you are able to use all the frequencies available to Amateur band.

Ever wonder who monitors Channel 9 on CB? The Volunteers of Radio Emergency Associated Communication Team or R.E.A.C.T. do. REACT is currently running 20 volunteers per shift in NYC. They are accepting donations of money, and equipment. For more information go to:

Now that you've got your license and radio you might consider joining a local club. There are many of them out there and there are probably a few in your area. You might want to get in touch with your local Civil Defense agency. They will be able to give you a list of some clubs along with frequencies and repeater information for your area. Sometimes cities use volunteer Ham operators to help oversee events like parades and gatherings. If you're really interested in volunteering for various activities, you might consider contacting your local Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service or RACES. As a member of RACES, you can aid in emergency situations. We hope we have perked your interest in Amatuer Radio. 73 DE NH7FW.


Contacts Related Links
  • The American Radio Relay League, Inc.
    225 Main Street
    Newington, CT, 06111-1494 USA
    Tel: 1-860-594-0200

    Fax: 1-860-594-0259
  • ICOM America, Inc.
    2380-116th Ave NE
    Bellevue, WA 98004
    Phone: (425) 454-8155
    Fax: (425) 454-1509
    Customer Service: (425) 454-7619
  • Yaesu/Vertex
    17210 Edwards Rd.
    Cerritos, CA 90703 U.S.A.
    Phone: 1-562-404-2700
    1-562-404-4828 (parts and customer service)
  • Kenwood Americas Corporation
    P.O. Box 22745
    Long Beach, CA 90801-5745
    Tel: 1(310)639-9000
    Fax: 1(310)609-2757
  • REACT International, Inc. 
    5210 Auth Rd #403 
    Suitland, Maryland 20746 
    Tel:  (301) 316-2900
    Fax:  (301) 316-2903

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