Amateur Radio License … Check.

Yesterday morning I successfully passed Element 2 of the FCC licensing requirements for amateur radio. Short version is that I’ve passed the test for a Technician class radio license and should get my call sign in the next week or so. I went to the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department emergency-management office, took the 35-question test, and passed with 31 correct (I think 27 was the fail point).

While out with friends yesterday, Joe inquired about the practical value of ham radio. I think the point is threefold: First, to connect with others; second, to become adept at a different communications technology less subject to disruption during times of emergency and less dependent on fixed infrastructure; and third, to serve the community during crises (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service), severe weather (SKYWARN) or complex activities like parades or festivals.

The Federal Communications Commission requires an amateur radio license for any transmission on various frequency bands with a few very narrow exceptions like CB radio. For the most part, ham operators have access to longer-distance frequencies than citizens’ band, marine VHF or short-range “family radio services” can use. The mix of people who participate in amateur radio is astonishing — the ranks of licensed hams is at an all-time high with several hundred thousand hams in the United States alone — with remarkable diversity within the craft. Yesterday, for example, I tested with a rather attractive woman younger than I, and the exam proctors ranged from grizzed old men to younger professionals.

When people think “ham radio” they often think “nerd.” But hams perform a vital service (who do you think managed communications in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina leveled all the cell towers, or notify officials about tornado touchdowns all across the country?) and they need an astonishing level of competence in electrical theory to do their work. The Technician license — the lowest tier of three currently recognized by the FCC — requires applicants to understand electrical equations (e.g., “if you put a 10-ohm resistor on a 5-amp circuit …”), read complex schematics and understand federal regulations in addition to the basics of actually picking up a mic and talking.

Ham radio was on my bucket list. This particular item bumped up the priority list by happy fortune; while I was browsing for typewriter ribbon in eBay I noticed a can’t-miss deal on an HF radio, and I won the auction for an absolute steal. Can’t use the radio without the license, so … yeah.

Anyway, I look forward to getting involved in the local ham community. I understand there’s a “hamfest” in Hudsonville next weekend; I might visit.

Stay tuned for updates on this subject.

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