The Various Modes of Communication for Amateur Radio Operators

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In some ways, becoming a ham radio operator is a little like becoming a wizard. There’s this entire world right under our noses that many of us are completely unaware of! With a police scanner and just a little bit of understanding about how two-way radio works, you can discover all kinds of secret messages being passed back and forth. Here you can listen in on everything, from amateur DJs practicing in their basements, to important discussions on Marine VHF Radio.

There’s a whole lot to discover in other words, and doing so is a way to have an adventure from your own home. But perhaps the best stuff is the content created by ‘hams’.

HAM radio is the technical term for amateur radio. These are the people broadcasting their messages across the local area for anyone interested to hear.

But even that’s not the whole story. Because hams don’t just communicate via the spoken word, and if that’s all that you’re listening out for, then you’re missing some of the most interesting and exciting content! There are actually multiple modes of communication employed by amateur radio operators. Here, we’re going to take a look at some of the most interesting.

Modes of Communication for Ham Radio

Analog Voice

Analog voice is the technical term for the main mode of communication used by hams. Essentially, wave forms are modulated by amplitude, frequency, and phase, and this allows a receiver to convert a signal into a voice. This way, we can listen to local news, entertainment, radio shows and more.

Digital Voice

Digital voice communication achieves the same end-result as analog voice, but the key difference is in the way that the data is encoded. This is converted to a data stream, which essentially operates as a form of binary (ones and zeros) through stops and starts in the signal.

There are a number of different formats for these data streams, which include APCO P25, D-STAR, DMR, NXDN, FreeDV, System Fusion, and others. To listen on this you will need either digital radio or digital police scanners.

Morse Code

Let’s say that you’re browsing the airwaves and you suddenly hear some beeping sounds:


It’s morse code!

And in this case, it’s an SOS. You of course need to listen in to find out more and then alert the relevant authorities if this should ever happen.

But there’s a lot of other communication that occurs via morse code, due to the simplicity of this signal – it’s actually a form of digital communication, long before the advent of digital radio. You can code manually using a telegraph key, or use a computer to translate the code.


If you have had limited exposure to radio, then you might assume that it is just a form of verbal communication. In fact though, you can send any kind of data by using the right encoding protocols. This is seen in Bluetooth – which actually uses a form of radio!

Images are often sent over radio – including video – using slow-scan television (SSTV), amateur television (ATV), or facsimile.


In fact, anything that can be encoded as data can be transmitted by radio. Other examples include text and data. Then there are the activities that are often referred to as ‘modes’, such as Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) or Satellite (OSCAR).