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The World of Amateur Radio

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What is Amateur "ham" Radio? How do I become a radio amateur?
Who can become a radio amateur? Do I need to learn the Morse Code?
What do radio amateurs do? Do I need to learn a lot about electronics?
How is ham radio different from CB? How do I study for the exam?
Hasn't the Internet made ham radio obsolete? Where can I find an Amateur Radio club?
How far can you talk? Is there a national Amateur Radio group?
What can't radio hams do? Who sells amateur radio equipment?
How much does the equipment cost?
How much does the licence cost?

What is Amateur "ham" Radio?

First of all, it is fun!

Amateur Radio is the the personal, not-for-profit use of shortwave radio equipment for communication and technical training.

Amateur Radio operators, like amateur athletes, are involved for the love of it, for self-improvement, or for fun! And like athletes, the word "amateur" does not reflect on our abilities. Many radio amateurs have become experienced communicators or accomplished engineers. But to most, "ham" radio is a hobby.

(Photo courtesy American Radio Relay League)

Who can become a radio amateur?

Anyone who can pass a simple proficiency exam can become a radio amateur, regardless of age, gender, or physical ability.

There are radio amateurs from 9 to 90 years of age. There are blind hams, deaf hams, shut-in hams and disabled hams. On the air, we're all equal... and everyone is welcome!

(Photo by Bill Dowkes VE3DIQ)

How is ham radio different from CB?

CB radio, or the "General Radio Service," provides local communications for those who have no knowledge of radio. (No offense to our CB friends, many of whom are quite knowledgable!) CB operators are authorized to use only one band of frequencies (29.6 to 27.5 MHz), must use 40 fixed "channels" in that band, may only transmit voice, and are limited to 5 watts of power.

Ham radio operators are authorized to use twenty-eight different frequency bands, scattered from 1.8 MHz to 250,000 MHz, and up to 1000 watts of power. We may send voice, Morse code, radioteletype, television, even digital data between computers, locally or world-wide! And unlike CB operators, we may design, build, or repair our own radio equipment if we wish.

Hasn't the Internet made ham radio obsolete?

No! No more than the automobile made bicycling or horseback riding obsolete.

Amateur Radio is like fishing...the Internet is like buying fish in the supermarket. If you want to feed your family, you go to the supermarket. If you want fun and relaxation, you go fishing! Likewise, if you want instant information or email, use the Internet. If you want challenge, or sport, or fun, try ham radio.

And of course, when the high tech fails, amateur radio still works. During the recent ice storm in eastern Ontario and Quebec, many areas were without telephone (and the Internet) for days...but the ham radio operators kept on communicating.

How do I become a radio amateur?

You must pass a test on basic electronic theory, radio operation, and radio regulations. This test is 100 multiple-choice questions, and a passing grade is 60%. That's all there is to it!

The test is issued by Industry Canada, the government department that regulates the radio services. You can take the test at the nearest Industry Canada office (Kitchener), or you can contact a delegated examiner closer to you. These are radio amateurs whom Industry Canada has authorized to administer the exam. There are delegated examiners nearby in Hepworth, Port Elgin, and Collingwood.

Do I need to learn the Morse code?

No! The Basic Amateur Radio licence requires only a written exam.

However, if you do learn the Morse code, you can obtain additional privileges. The Basic qualification allows you to use all amateur frequency bands above 30 MHz. Sending and receiving Morse code at 5 words per minute -- one letter every two seconds -- allows you to also use the amateur frequency bands below 4 MHz. Sending and receiving at 12 words per minute lets you use all amateur frequencies!

Do I need to learn a lot about electronics?

No! You need to learn only slightly more than you'd learn in a high school science course. You'll learn about electric current, voltage, and power; and a little bit about resistors, capacitors, inductors, transformers, diodes, and transistors. You'll also learn about radio waves and how they travel, and the most elementary principles of radio transmitters, receivers, and antennas.

The only math required is add, subtract, multiply, and divide...and you're allowed to use a calculator.

How do I study for the exam?

You can self-study, or you can take a course. If you choose to study on your own, The Canadian Amateur Study Guide for the Basic Qualification, published by Radio Amateurs of Canada, can be purchased at amateur radio dealers and many Radio Shack stores.

Amateur Radio courses are offered frequently by many radio clubs, including the Georgian Bay Amateur Radio Club in Owen Sound. These courses run from 5 to 13 weeks and typically cost around $100.

(Photo by John Apsitis VE3TXB)

Where can I find an Amateur Radio club?

Owen Sound: Georgian Bay Amateur Radio Club, P.O. Box 113, Owen Sound, Ontario, N4K 5P1. Email or visit our web page,

Collingwood: Blue Mountain Amateur Radio Club, P.O. Box 273, Collingwood, Ontario, L9Y 3Z5. Email or visit their web page,

Port Elgin: Port Elgin Amateur Radio Club, P.O. Box 937, Port Elgin, Ontario N0H 2C0.

Kincardine: Bruce Amateur Radio Club, c/o Fred Kirby, Lake Huron Highlands, RR#2, Kincardine, Ontario NOG 2T0. Visit their web page at

Shelburne: Dufferin Amateur Radio Club, RR#1, Shelburne, Ontario L0N 1S0.

Orangeville: High Counties Amateur Radio Club, c/o Irwin Henderson, 219 Elizabeth Street, Orangeville, Ontario L9W 1C9.

Fergus: Fergus/Elora Amateur Radio Club, Albert St., Fergus, Ontario N1M 3P4. Email

Barrie: Barrie Amateur Radio Club, P.O. Box 254, Barrie, Ontario L4M 4T4. Visit their web page at

If you're from farther away, the Radio Amateurs of Canada web page at contains a list of Amateur Radio clubs throughout Canada. Or you can telephone the Radio Amateurs of Canada office at 613-244-4367.

Most clubs have regular meetings, and visitors are always welcome. Drop by and say hello!

Is there a national Amateur Radio group?

Yes there is!

Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC)
720 Belfast Road, Suite 217
Ottawa, Ontario K1G 0Z5

telephone 613-244-4367
fax 613-244-4369

or visit on the Internet.

How far can you talk?

Across town, or around the world! Here are some examples:

With a 2 metre mobile radio in your car, you can talk directly to other hams 15 or 20 kilometres away. By operating through a repeater station, that same radio can reliably reach hundreds of kilometres.

With an HF (high frequency) radio, you can reach the entire world...if the conditions are favorable. The range of HF transmissions is affected by the ionosphere, which is like the weather: it changes constantly, it's unpredictable, and you can't do anything about it.

With a 2 metre packet radio hooked to your computer, you can send digital messages reliably around the world...but they may take a few days to get there!

How much does the licence cost?

There are two licences. The operator's licence is like a driver's licence -- it certifies that you have passed the exam. It's free and is good for your lifetime.

The station licence is like the licence plates you put on your car. If you own a radio transmitter, it has to have its own licence. This licence costs $24 per year and must be renewed annually. An Amateur station licence actually authorizes three transmitters: one in your home, one in your car, and one someplace else (such as your cottage).

Amateur radio receivers don't require a licence...only transmitters.

How much does the equipment cost?

For most hams, anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

New 2-metre radios for mobile and local use cost from $400 to $800. Used radios can be found for as little as $200. "Handheld" 2-metre radios cost about the same.

New HF radios for worldwide communication cost from $1000 to $3000. Used radios cost as little as $300.

You should also budget $100 to $300 for accessories, especially a small antenna and antenna cable. A big antenna on a tower may cost $1000 or more.

Who sells Amateur Radio equipment?

Radio Shack, and many Amateur Radio dealers. Here are just two of several dealers in Ontario:

Radioworld, 4335 Steeles Ave. West, Toronto, Ontario M3N 1V7. Telephone 416-667-1000, or visit their web page at

Durham Radio, 350 Wentworth St. E., Unit #7, Oshawa, Ontario L1H 7R7. Telephone 905-436-2100, or visit their web page at

Both of these dealers will accept mail and telephone orders.

What can't radio hams do?

We can not use amateur radio for any commercial or business purpose, or take payment for the use of our radios.

We can not broadcast radio programs, or transmit music of any kind.

We can not send messages on behalf of non-amateurs to most foreign countries. (An exception is made for emergency communications.) A few countries, such as the United States, do allow amateurs to send messages for "third parties."

Other than these, as long as we stay within the regulations, almost any kind of radio communication between individuals is permitted.

What are the amateur frequency bands?

By international agreement and national law, certain radio frequencies are reserved for the use of radio amateurs. In Canada we may use:

5 or 12 WPM*
Morse required
12 WPM*
Morse required
No Morse Code required
1.8 to 2.0 MHz 7.0 to 7.3 MHz 50 to 54 MHz 24,000 to 24,050 MHz
3.5 to 4.0 MHz 10.10 to 10.15 MHz 144 to 148 MHz ("2 metres") 24,050 to 24,250 MHz
14.00 to 14.35 MHz 220 to 225 MHz 47,000 to 47,200 MHz
18.068 to 18.168 MHz 430 to 450 MHz 75,500 to 76,000 MHz
21.00 to 21.45 MHz 902 to 928 MHz 76,000 to 81,000 MHz
24.89 to 24.99 MHz 1,240 to 1,300 MHz 142,000 to 144,000 MHz
28.0 to 29.7 MHz 2,300 to 2,450 MHz 144,000 to 149,000 MHz
3,300 to 3,500 MHz 241,000 to 248,000 MHz
5,650 to 5,925 MHz 248,000 to 250,000 MHz
10,000 to 10,500 MHz

* words per minute

What's a MHz?

MHz is short for "megaHertz." Radio frequencies are measured in Hertz (formerly "cycles per second"), and a megaHertz is a million Hertz. This is what you select when you change the tuning of your radio or the channel of your TV.

For comparison, your AM radio tunes from 0.5 to 1.5 MHz, and your FM radio from 88 to 108 MHz. TV channels are scattered from 54 MHz (channel 2) to 800 MHz (channel 69).