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What is Ham Radio?

Who is the Typical Ham?

    Amateur Radios operators come from all walks of life - movie stars, missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, truck drivers and just plain folks. They are all ages, sexes, income levels and nationalities. But whether they prefer Morse code on an old brass telegraph key through a low-power transmitter, voice communication on a hand-held radio or computer messages transmitted through satellites, they all have an interest in what's happening in the world, and they use radio to reach out.

What is the Appeal of Ham Radio?

    Some hams are affected by the ability to communicate across the country, around the world, even with astronauts on space missions. Others build and experiment with electronics. Computer hobbyists find packet radio to be a low cost way to expand their ability to communicate. Those with a competitive streak enjoy "DX" contests, where the object is to see how many hams in distant locations they can contact. Some like the convenience and technology that gives them portable communications with hand-held radios known as "handi-talkies" or simply, "HT's". Others use it to open the door to new friendships over the air or through participation in one of more than 2000 Amateur Radio clubs throughout the country.

A Noble History:

    Nobody knows when Amateur Radio operators were first called "Hams", but we do know that Amateur Radio is as old as the history of radio itself. Not long after Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian experimenter, transmitted the Morse code letter "s" from Poldhu, Wales, to St. John's, Newfoundland, in 1901, amateur experimenters throughout the world were trying out the capabilities of the first "spark gap" transmitters. In 1912, Congress passed the first laws regulating radio transmissions in the U.S. By 1914, amateur experimenters were communicating nation-wide, and setting up a system to relay messages from coast to coast, (whence the name "American Radio Relay League"). In 1927, the precursor agency to the FCC was created by Congress and specific frequencies were assigned for various uses, including ham bands.

Why a License?

    Although the main purpose of Amateur Radio is fun, it is called the "Amateur Radio Service" because it also has a serious side. The FCC created this "Service" to fill the need for a pool of experts who could provide backup emergency communications. In addition, the FCC acknowledged the ability of the hobby to advance the communication and technical skills of radio operators, and to enhance international goodwill. This philosophy has paid off. Countless lives have been saved where skilled hobbyists act as emergency communicators to render aid, whether it's during an earthquake in Italy or a hurricane in the U.S.

Why Do They Call Themselves "Hams"?

    Although the origin of the word "ham" is obscure, every ham has his or her own pet theory. One holds that early amateurs were called hams because they liked to perform, or "ham it up" on the air. Another proposes that the name came from the "ham-fisted" way some early amateurs handled their code keys. One of the most exotic holds that "ham" is an acronym from the initials of three college students who were among the first radio amateurs. Perhaps the easiest to accept is that "ham" is derived from "Am", a contraction of "Amateur".

What Are the Amateur Radio Bands?

    Look at the dial on an old AM radio and you'll see frequencies marked from 535 to 1605 kilohertz. Imagine that band extended out many thousands of kilohertz, and you'll have some idea of how much additional radio spectrum is available for amateur, government and commercial radio bands. It is here you'll also find aircraft, ship, fire and police communication, as well as "short wave" stations, which are worldwide commercial and government broadcast stations from the U.S. and overseas. Amateurs are allocated nine basic "bands" (i.e. groups of frequencies) in the High Frequency (HF) range between 1800 and 29,700 kilohertz, and another seven bands in the Very High frequency (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) ranges, as well as Super High Frequency (SHF) bands. Even though many Amateur Radio conversations may be heard around the world, given the right frequency and propagation conditions, Amateur Radio is basically two-way communication.

Where Do I Get More Information?

    The three best ways to learn about Amateur Radio are to listen to hams on the "Amateur Bands", read about Amateur Radio in the numerous books and magazines devoted to the subject and, best of all, talk to hams face-to-face. Hams take pride in their ability to "Elmer" (teach) newcomers the ropes to get them started in the hobby. There is probably an Amateur Radio club near you that will welcome your interest.

To find out how to get started and who to contact in your area, call or write:

The American Radio Relay League

225 Main Street

Newington, CT, 06111

Telephone: 1-800-32NEW - HAM

You  may also contact the ARRL at www.arrl.org