There are countless cool things you can do with two-way radio. You can use it for a walkie talkie – in order to stay in touch with someone while you are hunting (called a hunting two-way radio), while playing paintball, or generally while partaking in any activity where you will be separated. You can use a police scanner to ride the airwaves and to listen out for interesting communications and broadcasts.
OR you can use a two-way radio as a way to create your own broadcasts. This is what is known as HAM radio, and it is a very exciting and somewhat underground form of communication and content creation.
How Ham Radio Works and Why You Need a License
Surrounding us all the time is an invisible electromagnetic field that hangs in the air. This isn’t made from particles (it is not ‘massive’ to use the scientific parlance), but is instead made from charged electrons.
When someone communicates using a handheld two-way radio, they essentially cause fluctuations in this field at specific wavelengths. That is to say that the charge oscillates at a certain rhythm. And it’s by listening out for these oscillations that a receiver is able to convert the electrical signals into music, speech, and everything else. This is how your regular radio stations work, it’s how television works – it’s even how Bluetooth works!
So if you want to become a Ham radio star, all you need to do is to invest in a two-way radio and start communicating to the local area right?
Well not quite. You see, because radio works on predefined wavelengths, you can only have one person on each channel at a time. If two people attempt to communicate at the same wavelength, then the signal will be scrambled. This is called ‘jamming’.
This is a problem for numerous reasons. For one, it means that you could interrupt emergency radio signals. For another, it means that you could disrupt other communications like television and aircrafts! This is why regulation is needed.
To tackle this, most countries will require some form of license for amateurs to begin broadcasting. The license is very easy to learn, and covers some basic electronics theory and rules and regulations of amateur radio. Study guides are readily available, and you really shouldn’t let this put you off.
Over the course of obtaining your license, you’ll learn how to operate your radio responsibly so as not to jam important channels. At the same time, you’ll learn about broadcasting rules in your region, and you’ll learn how to identify emergency messages and who to contact if you should come across them.
The eventual FCC licensing test involves some written exams, a Morse Code test, and multiple choice.
Of course, some people choose to go ahead and broadcast without a license, but seeing as it’s easy to do, we highly recommend investing the small amount of time necessary.
If you are stuck, contact the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) which has been set up to help individuals get into the world of amateur radio.