In this blog, we’ll cover the step-by-step process detailing everything you need to know to get your HAM radio license. As we go along in this blog, you’ll notice on each step, we’ll put a number in the corner of the screen as we talk about it. We’ll do this as each point we’ll cover will have some links where you can sign up and access other important information we’ll cover. Just focus on the blog and follow along and reference the links once you see the entire process. We just went through the entire process ourselves, so we’ll share everything we went through so you’ll know what to expect. Before we jump in the exact process, let’s quickly answer these two questions: what is a HAM radio and why should you get a HAM radio license? Now if you want to skip the section answering these questions, the actual steps pick up at this time and you can skip forward to the process.
What is a HAM radio?
Amateur radio, or more commonly referred to as HAM radio, is a range of radio frequencies that individuals with a license can broadcast on to communicate. Let us explain it this way. If you use a radio, say for example like the radio we have here, you can dial in a station on the FM or AM band allowing you listen to a radio station that broadcast on a specific frequency. The company that broadcasts on that frequency has a license to do so. With a radio like this, you can only listen to these frequencies, but you can’t talk to other people with this radio. Now with a HAM radio like one of these devices, you can both listen and talk to other people on a small set of designated frequencies. Based on your setup, you can communicate with others a few miles away or if you hit a repeater tower, you can communicate far distances, and with the right setup, you can even communicate around the world. But in order to be able to press the button on this device and transmit on those designated frequencies, you need a license which leads me to my next point.
Why get a HAM radio license?
In order to broadcast from your HAM radio on a designated radio frequency, you need a license to do so. For the preparedness community, having the ability to communicate with others in your group after or during an emergency would be invaluable. Imagine if you’re away from your family and there’s a disaster and phones are overloaded. This actually happened on 9/11. HAM radios are the ultimate in guaranteeing you can always communicate with others. If you have one of these devices and your team does as well, you can now communicate with each other. But like all things, it’s important to practice with your gear in advance to know how to use it, and trust me, with a HAM radio, that’s even more important. That’s why getting a license is so crucial. Without a license, you can not practice legally with these devices. So let’s jump into the steps to get your license.
Step 1: FRN registration
What is a FRN? A FRN, or FCC Registration Number, is a ten-digit number that identifies your business dealings with the FCC. You’ll need to go the FCC Registration webpage to sign up. The sign up process is pretty simple, you’ll simply register on their website by getting a free account, then logging in, and filling out the information they request. If you want a step-by-step guide that shows the exact sign up process for the FCC, we’ll post a link to that below. Once you register, you’ll get a confirmation email like the one shown here but of course we have all of my information blurred out. Once you get the 10-digit FRN number the FCC will email you after you sign up, you’re ready to take your test. You’ll need to print out the email with that information from the FCC and take it with you when you take your test.
Step 2: Find a test location
Next, let’s discuss how to locate a test location in your area. Again, we’ll post links to everything below that we’re about to cover. To find the locations, go to the ARRL website where you’ll have a couple of options. First, you can take the test online. There’s a list of teams that do these test online and you can look through the options, click on the links which will lead you to a page where you can sort by remote tests. We normally prefer to do things online, but for this, we wanted to go through the experience of taking it at a physical location. Just a personal preference. We guess we wanted the full experience we used the form on the ARRL website and was able to enter my zip code to find a location in our area. Once you submit your zip code, it will return options along with relevant information like the test date. You can also click on the location to get the individual’s information who is administering the test if you want to reach out to them with any questions before you go.
Step 3: Study for the test
Now here’s the key to all of this. In the past, it’s at this point that we normally got sidetracked. We’ve used multiple study options before when we had started and stopped learning for the test. We have found plenty of free solutions online and some were ok, but we personally found a HAM radio program that allowed us to set some time aside on a Friday and dig into this nonstop for several hours. If you remember cramming for a test in high school or college, yeh, we did the same here. Here’s what we did: We signed up for an account at hamradioprep.com. And yes, they are sponsoring this blog. We went with them as the sponsor because it was the approach that got me across the finish line. We’ll post a link along with a coupon if you want to use them. When you login, you’ll see the courses you enrolled for. We signed up for the Level 1: Technician License Course and the Baofeng Basics, which we’ll talk more about in a moment. When studying, you’ll have multiple blogs that cover each section in detail. After reading the blog, they have the text laid out so you can read it to make sure you grasped it, and then there’s a quiz you go through that has the actual questions on the exam you’ll take that cover the section you just went over. On the sidebar, you’ve got 10 sections which you’ll study each with it’s own blog and text and test for that section. After completing all 10 sections, you can then take the final practice test with 35 questions which will be comprised of the same questions you’ll have on the day of the exam. Here’s what we like about the tests: at the end, after you finish, if you missed any questions, it will show you what section of the 10 sections we mentioned a moment ago that the question belongs to. If you notice you’re missing multiple questions from one section, you can go back and study that section again. What we personally did was take the test about 3 or 4 times the day we studied and then again the morning before we headed over to the test. We passed 5 of the 6 times we took it, so we were pretty confident when going to take the test.
Step 4: Day of the test
We got up that morning, went to get coffee and took the test a couple times more to make sure we were ready. With caffeine and confidence, we were ready! We drove out to the location and the test site was at a person’s house. They had tables set up in their garage with 3 retired vets that helped facilitate the test. It’s a great community of volunteers. You’ll need to take a couple of pencils for the test and a checkbook. The exam costs $15 to take it. Now, if you fail, you can retake it for another $15. Spoiler alert: We failed by one question the first time we took it that morning. We were a bit overly confident and rushed through the test. So we paid them another $15 and slowed down taking my time to think through each question. The second test we did fine and passed with no problems. It was an awesome feeling to finally get that done. It’s important to note at this point: you can not broadcast on your HAM radio yet which leads me to the next point.
Step 5: What happens after the test?
OK, so you’ve passed your test. What happens next is that you’ll get an email from the FCC to pay a fee to get your license. You’ll need to pay this fee within ten days of taking your test. If you have any issues or don’t get a notification after the test, just reach out to the person who administered the test. Mine took a little longer because they mailed in our form so it delayed us getting the notification from the FCC. Once you pay the FCC fee of $35, this is where it gets exciting. You get your license along with your call sign. You can print it out and they’ll also send you one in the mail. OK, it’s now at this point that you can legally broadcast on your radio which leads us to our final point.
Step 6: What to do after you get your license
When we got our license, the first question of course was, ok, now what do we do? Obviously, you’ll need a HAM radio. Most preppers start out with the Baofeng UV-5R. These will set you back about $22 which is amazingly cheap, right? You’ll want to get a better antenna though. Here’s the stock antenna it came with and here’s the upgraded antenna. There’s two primary ways to communicate with these: simplex meaning you’ll communicate with another person who has a license on the same frequency. You can communicate up to a couple of miles with this approach and secondly you can program your radio to communicate with a repeater which will boost your signal around the repeater. Now programming your HAM radio is beyond the scope of this video, but if you take the HAM radio prep course, they have an additional course that you can pay for that will hold your hand and walk you through the whole process of programming your Baofeng radio. The first thing we personally did was to look up local repeaters in our area using the website repeaterbook.com. You can find repeaters near your location and it’s a good idea to program those into your radio so if there’s a disaster, they’re already setup and ready to go. Many of these repeaters have their own backup power, so if the grid goes down, they can still broadcast. There’s also an app we downloaded on our phone which has all the information you’ll need. Additionally, it will probably help to look up your local HAM radio clubs by searching on Google for “HAM radio clubs near me” as they’re a great resource. Also, and this is very important, participating in local nets before an emergency helps you to find out if your radio is powerful enough for two-way communication with the repeater. Test your gear! This is why we recommend getting a license. You can legally broadcast during a disaster without a license, but if you have no experience, it’s not gonna be easy if you don’t have any experience with this device.
If you have questions or comments, please post those below. Again, we’ll put all the links to everything we covered below.
As always, stay safe out there.
– FRN Registration: https://cityprepping.tv/3FMu3H0
– Step-by-step guide to sign up for FRN registration: https://cityprepping.tv/3NxJpRD
– Email example of FRN registration completion: https://cityprepping.tv/3fyJ1Wi
– Find test location: https://cityprepping.tv/3U8cTYz
– Oline test locations: https://cityprepping.tv/3Ww5LqI
– Study for test: https://cityprepping.tv/3NyyM0R (use coupon code: cityprepping)
– Go to the test location of your choosing
– Pay FCC after passing your test. Example email from the FCC to pay for the license: https://cityprepping.tv/3UqhB3P
– Baofeng UV-5R: https://amzn.to/3Wrxk4p
– Upgraded Antenna: https://amzn.to/3E0t4By
– Other HAM radio options: https://cityprepping.tv/3sSSKtP