Learning How to Communicate: Ham Radio

  • Mike Denmon
Learning How to Communicate: Ham Radio

Communication outages have been popping up in the news recently, and they can be caused by a variety of reasons.

Perhaps the outage is as simple as a groundwork crew digging in Point B instead of Spot A, severing a critical line that makes 9-1-1 services inoperable for 6 states.

Maybe the disruption is from something more nefarious like an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) deployed by an enemy to take down all communication and electronics services within an affected radius of the EMP.

Or maybe a natural phenomenon, like the electromagnetic storm that struck Earth in the 1800s and was strong enough to catch some telegraph stations and cables on fire, could cause us to lose communications.

Whatever the reason, it is hard to deny that a widespread loss of access to communications could be terrible for us. So many critical services depend on uninterrupted access to online servers or digital transport lines that the world could quickly crumble with the loss of digital economic or public safety systems.

So what can we do to help us maintain communications in the event of a trenching gone wrong or an attack on infrastructure?

Go Ham

Ham Radio is a style of communication that utilizes licensed frequencies on the available radio frequency system. The name sounds strange, and is not an acronym for High Air Majesty, as many might have suspected. Or not suspected.

The term “ham” actually refers to the fact that the operators of these set-ups are amateurs. The story goes that a bit of a turf war was started between the wired telegram operators and the wireless telegram operators, who used radios to broadcast the same dots and dashes as those connected to a cable coming in through a hole in the wall. The operators who had to be tied to a cable said that the receipt of the Morse code signals seemed “ham-fisted” and not as clear as the wired-style signals. The dig stuck, and these early operations were known as ham radio operators.

Unfortunately for the smug, wired telegram operators, they ended up going the way of the dodo, and the hams stuck around.

Thankfully, the growth of radio use for sending and receiving of messages continued to grow, as well as the network of operators across the country, then the globe, and then into outer space.


Originally, the ham radio network was for more official uses, including sending and receiving messages. As technology improved and the units became smaller and less expensive, the variety of owners increased to a point where some structure was needed to help ensure that the amateur radio operator wouldn’t interrupt emergency or critical service broadcasts.

The Federal Communications Commission regulates the airwaves here in the US, and they are the ones who dictate which frequencies can be utilized for saying hi to a friend at a cattle station in Australia. These frequencies usually vary according to your home base location, and you do require a license to be able to transmit on those frequencies, but none is needed to receive.

If you like listening to people broadcast all sorts of random information from around the world, but have zero interest in interacting with them, then feel free to build a ham radio system and start scanning the airwaves.

However, a key aspect of being able to receive and send signals from your ham radio set-up is assisting in the event of an emergency. In many times of national or even local emergency, ham radio operators have been able to pass along critical information that can help keep people safe.

Imagine a hurricane that wipes out all the landlines and cell phone towers for several days. How would people in that affected area know where they can go to get help? If someone in that area has a ham radio system they can broadcast their needs and get help sent directly to them in an expedited manner.

System Parts

The ham radio system is made of several varying but equally important parts. Each system requires:

  • Transceiver — This is what allows you to communicate with others. The best transceivers will be meant for stationary use, but some receivers are meant for use in vehicles, especially in those of emergency services or off-road enthusiasts.

  • Power Supply — The power supply is what will power your system and can vary in size. Like with the transceiver, the power supply is typically meant for stationary systems but there are also mobile versions available. The power you can supply to your system can impact the distance of reach your system may have.

  • VHF/UHF Antenna — This is a dual-band antenna and is as crucial of choice as the transceiver. This is what allows your ham system to send out and receive signals with other ham users in the same frequencies as you.

  • HF Wire Antenna — If you are buying a transceiver that can communicate on high-frequency channels, then you will need an HF wire antenna as well.

If you want to be mobile with your ham radio system, you will require a similar set-up. If you want to go truly mobile, on foot, there are handheld radios that function on the amateur frequencies as well.

Whatever your reason for choosing to get your own ham radio, whether it is socializing, assisting in emergencies, or just learning a new hobby, make sure you get your license and do your research. With the right equipment and know-how, you will be spreading your voice via the amateur airwaves in no time. 

Photo by Alexandr Sadkov on Unsplash