Getting Your License

Everything you need to know to start your learning journey.

Welcome to BWA's comprehensive guide for getting started with the Amateur Radio hobby! Whether you're a newcomer to the world of amateur radio or looking to upgrade your existing license, this resource is designed to provide you with all the essential information, tips, and resources to help you navigate the process. Ham radio, also known as amateur radio, offers a unique and rewarding hobby that connects people around the world through radio communication.

What is Ham Radio?

Ham radio, short for amateur radio, is a hobby and service that allows individuals to use radio communication to connect with others around the world. It involves the use of designated radio frequencies for non-commercial purposes, such as personal communication, experimentation, and public service.

Ham radio has a rich history dating back to the late 19th century. It evolved from the pioneering work of inventors like Marconi and Tesla. Amateur radio operators, or "hams," played a crucial role in the development of radio technology. During World Wars I and II, hams provided vital communication links when other systems failed, further establishing their importance.

Becoming a ham provides many benefits and opportuinities. Just to list a few:

Types of Ham Radio Licenses

In the United States, ham radio licenses are divided into three main classes: Technician, General, and Extra. Each class provides specific privileges and comes with its own set of limitations.

Technician Class License

Technician Class License is the entry-level license. Technicians are granted access to a range of VHF (Very High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency) frequencies, making local and regional communication possible using handheld and mobile radios. However, they have limited access to HF (High Frequency) bands, which are essential for long-distance communication. Their privileges on HF bands are restricted to specific frequencies and modes.

General Class License

General Class License offers expanded privileges compared to Technician. General-class operators gain access to a broader range of HF frequencies, allowing for long-distance communication worldwide. They can also use all VHF/UHF frequencies for various purposes.

Extra Class License

Extra Class License is the highest level of ham radio licensing. Extra-class operators have the most extensive privileges, including access to all amateur radio bands, including exclusive allocations of certain frequencies. This allows for worldwide communication on HF, VHF, and UHF bands using various modes. Extra-class operators have very few limitations when it comes to frequency access, making them the most versatile within the ham radio community.

These license classes represent a progression, with each class building upon the privileges of the previous one. To earn these licenses, individuals must pass exams that assess their knowledge of radio theory, regulations, and operating practices. Pursuing higher-class licenses not only enhances an operator's capabilities but also opens up opportunities to participate in a wider range of activities within the amateur radio community.

Getting Your License

Obtaining a ham radio license involves a series of steps, including studying for and passing an exam. Below are the steps you should follow, sequentially.

Decide on Your License Class

Determine which ham radio licence class you want to persue: Technician, Genearal, or Extra. Your choise will depend on your goals and interests in amateur radio. Some people start with getting their Technicians license and upgrade as they learn more over time. Some people study and take all three tests in one go, giving them access to all facets of the hobby immediately. 

To get higher class licenses, you must successfully pass all lower class exams. We reccomend going for one license at a time unless you are feeling particularly ambitious.

Study for the Exam

Once you have chosen which license class you would like to obtain, its important to gather study materials, such as textbooks, online courses, or study guides. The specific topics covered vary by license class but generally include radio theory, regulations, and operating procedures. 

Interactive Classes

If you prefer to learn in a classroom setting, Keith Miller (AE3D) regularly teaches a number of classes that will prepare you for your exams. These classes are free of charge and typically take place over Zoom in the comfort of your own home. For more information, visit our Classes page with an up to date schedule.

Book Learning

There are a number of excelent books that will help you study for your tests.

Video Learning

Youtube is now littered with young hams who are looking to share information on how to study for your license.

Schedule Your Test

Once you have learned the material and are passing your practice exams, its time to take your test! Tests can be done both online or in-person. BWA suggests taking your test in-person to start meeting local hams in your area.

Before you take your test, you must obtain an FCC username from the CORES system. Follow the link and click the register button.

Read over what to bring with you to your exam session. Make sure you have all required items with you upon ariving.

After the above has been completed, use the ARRL exam session search to find a testing location near you. Make sure to note if you need to pre-register, or if walk-ins are allowed. 

Finally, put the exam date on your calendar! All thats left is to attend the session and pass your test!

What Now?

So you have your license, but are unsure how to get involved? Start by joining the Bowie Wireless Association! On our learning page, you will find many facets of the ham radio hobby that our club partakes in. Read up, join a meeting, and make some new friends! There are many experienced hams in the club looking to help out anyone new to the hobby.