Amateur Radio really a very interesting hobby. It is the most versatile radio service available in many ways. Users of amateur radio get to choose their own radios and antennas, and can even design and build these things themselves if they like. They can operate with a surprising amount of power in many situations, and can work with all sorts of modes including CW (morse code), voice, and digital. Most other types of radio restrict people to only government-approved radios, certain specific channels, etc.
With amateur radio, it is possible to talk to locals using only a battery-powered handheld radio. With something in a car or house, it’s routine to talk to people across the continent with only a $30 antenna, or across the world with a bit fancier antenna. This requires no intervening infrastructure; you can talk directly from your antenna to someone else’s thousands of miles away with no phone company, satellite, landline, or anything in between. This makes ham radio ideal for emergencies, and there are national organizations of amateur radio operators that work closely with governments and disaster response groups to provide communications in emergencies. Ham radio still works when cell towers are disrupted, power is out, etc. Some local organizations also operate repeaters, which work to extend the range of small handheld radios. Repeaters often have generator backup and some are even portable on a truck.
As a tradeoff for this tremendous range, flexibility, and responsibility, amateur radio operators must be licensed by the government. This process involves passing an exam, which isn’t all that difficult to get started with. This is important because building your own radios, setting up your own antennas, and transmitting with large amounts of power (thousands of times what your cellphone uses, for instance) has the potential to interfere with users of other radio services. So the ham operator has to know some things about radio operation that aren’t general knowledge. This exam isn’t hard, and the ARRL publishes manuals that help you study quickly.
I have some more information:
- Why Get Involved With Amateur Radio? answers the question in more detail than these paragraphs
- Getting Started With Amateur Radio gives my tips and information on getting licensed, finding your first radio, etc. It isn’t all that hard to pass the exams, and I’ve taken some time to write up some very specific tips.
Links to this note
Amateur radio is a radio service in which people are allowed and encouraged to build their own radios, antennas, and so forth. It can be used to communicate all around the globe without any intervening infrastructure such as satellites or cables.