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I'm 13 years old. I hear all the fuss about ham radio how awesome it is. I really want to join, but I hear you have to get a certification.

  • How much does it cost?
  • How long does it take?
  • How much does a ham radio cost?
  • What could you do with it?
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You do have to be licensed to transmit on amateur (ham) radio frequencies. This requires passing a test, but it is not a hard test. There are many websites, Phone apps, and books that can help you study for the test.

The tests sessions are done by volunteers. The largest group of Volunteer Examiners is the American Radio Relay League or ARRL. On thier web site they list when and where tests will be held. As of April 2020 not many tests are being conducted due to the stay at home orders due to the COVID 2019 situation, but we expect this to change as restrictions are eased. The ARRL charges $15 for the test session.

The first license class is technician which lets you use relatively short range VHF and UHF radios. The other licenses are general and extra. These let you use HF frequencies which can travel great distances and you can communicate around the world. Each license requires passing an additional test. If you have studied all three test you actually can take and pass all three licenses the same day and go straight to extra.

Many HAM start with an Handheld Transceiver or HT. These start at around 30 - 40 dollars, but these cheap ones are not very good and if you can afford it it is better to look in $100 price range. The price of HF radio for general and extras can vary greatly. Some are a few hundred others can be many thousands. For HF I started with a ICOM IC 7300 that cost me about 900 dollars. For most HF radios you also need a separate power supply and an antenna.

Some HAMs like to build kits instead of buying. simple CW kits may only cost 10 - 20 dollars, but you must know Morse code to use them. other more elaborate kits can cost as much as an radio.I would suggest getting some experience first before trying to build kits. They can be somewhat difficult to get working correctly.

My advice would be to try an find a local HAM club. there are clubs in most areas. Again due to the COVID 19 restrictions many are not meeting, but once they resume meetings go visit a club and talk to the people there. Most HAMs will gladly talk about their "shacks" where they have their radios and other equipment.

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What could you do with it?

I believe this is the most important question of all. Within the the regulations, the answer is, "Your imagination is the only limit!"

Can you use it for your job? Yes - if you want to dream up, prototype, build, market and/or sell radios, antennas and their many accessories! This is no joke - all the products you see in magazines and on the web had to come from somewhere and all the people who contributed to them feel the personal success of creating a useful and valuable product. Many features of ham gear apply to products for commercial, professional, emergency service and other markets, so the skills are all transferable.

Can it apply to your job? Again, yes, especially if your job includes communicating with people of diverse interests and backgrounds. In my experience, this is especially true as the business world becomes ever more international; ham radio experiences allow you to feel as if you're in the conference room with people half a world away, and make them feel your presence, too. "DXing" - making contact with people around the globe - is a great way to develop these skills.

Want to help out in your community? Ham radio was conceived for exactly this purpose. Sure, cell phones are great for one-on-one conversations, but not so much for many-to-many communications over even modest areas, especially places that are "off the grid" - which includes many of the most beautiful places on Earth. How about providing communications for a competitive amateur race through the mountains or a fundraiser in the city?

You can even help people in other parts of the world who are suffering from the effects of natural disasters. Whether it's an earthquake, tsunami, wildfire or hurricane, radio amateurs are always there to provide emergency communications, help friends and families monitor the condition of their loved ones, and get equipment to their fellow hams to complete the mission. Annual events like ARRL Field Day test our mettle by challenging us to set up and operate outdoor stations for a continuous 24-hour period every year, forcing us to confront the challenges we might expect to face after a natural disaster and helping us empathize with their unfortunate victims.

And, if all that's not enough, you can use ham radio to investigate the physical world around you. How radio waves propagate long distances by bouncing off the ionosphere and even off the trails of ionized particles left in the wakes of meteors. How radio waves reflect off of or are absorbed by earth, water and man-made structures. How electromagnetic disturbances propagate along conductors to produce radio waves and how those waves can be focused to improve signal strength in a particular direction. Listen to emanations from the cosmos, even the remnants of the Big Bang believed to be the origin of our universe.

So, what can't you do with ham radio?

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  • How much does it cost?

Depends on who's taking your exam, but 15$ is what ARRL takes, IIRC.

  • How long does it take?

The exam itself: not very long. Learning: depends on how familiar you already are with a bit of the technology, and how fast you can learn about operating and laws.

So, since you're 13, you're generally in school, I'd guess, so you're used to learning, and that's a big advantage you have over adults! (life pro tip: never stop learning, it's really hard to start again once you haven't done it a while)

Then again, being young means you haven't had all of the physics courses in school, and that means you'll certainly spend an extra day or week on the physics stuff, but that really depends! Some things are easy for some people, others aren't :)

Generally, there's a lot of websites to study the basics, good place to start!

  • How much does a ham radio cost?

Well, a device can be really cheap, I think you've already got an answer to that in another question of yours, but basically: you really don't have to spend 100s of dollars. Start small. If you can't wait to play with a radio before you have your license, spend 10 to 30 $ on a "RTL dongle", that is a receiver only, which you plug into your computer's USB port, and then run some software on that computer to extract the audio that's transmitted by someone else, or the digital data.

  • What could you do with it?

An application very popular with "hams" is to actually talk over their radio. Often, the thrill is that you talk to someone very far away – without having a cable run there, like you have in most internet communications.

But that's far from all you can do:

For example, most communications these days on the HF band aren't Morse or speech, they are things like FT-8, a digital mode that is incredibly robust – meaning, you can receive it with a "not very good antenna", and transmit it with "not much" power, and someone far away can still receive it!

Other amateur radio enthusiast use their license to experiment with radio communications more than for communication itself – for example, there's people that are using the undersides of airplanes as they pass over them as "radio signal mirrors" to talk to people "hidden" behind a mountain that they otherwise couldn't reach. You can also do things like Radar with your transmitter, as long as you don't disturb the others and clearly identify yourself (see your callsigns question!).

Yet other amateurs build up data communication networks – think WiFi, but with lower rate, but connecting local ham networks to far away networks.

Some people are part of a network of devices that talk to each other – APRS. That is basically what is "IoT" today, long before the buzzword "internet of things" was a thing – and started back when the internet still wasn't something anyone outside universities had.

I, personally, take general interest in the technologies used, and how people employ them, and how to make inefficient systems be better. (For example, APRS is, from a scientist's point of view, incredibly stupid in a lot of ways. It works well – and I enjoy that – but it would be very cool if within the next couple of years, better things would become the usual way of doing the same and more!)

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