What is Amateur Radio
This page is about Amateur Radio as a hobby.
If you want to know more about listening to Amateur Radio signals, follow this link.
About Amateur Radio
Although the hobby of Amateur Radio is over a hundred years old, it can be so much more that the short waves and morse of the early years. We have our own highly efficient data modes and our own satellites. Many communications technologies stem from Amateur Radio or were developed by Radio Amateurs.
Amateur Radio is a hobby that means different things to different people.
- To some people, it's a form of COLLECTING. They collect calls to stations. Many exchange cards to prove their contacts. Some log calls to different countries or even different postcodes, collecting awards if they have reached a certain number of contacts. Listeners can also collect calls and cards by confirming that they have heard a conversation.
- Others just like the COMPETITIONS. There are many national and international competitions ranging from a couple of hours upwards. Certificates are often given for the most contacts and listeners are normally encouraged to send in check logs. We also run friendlier, club based contests as well.
- Some Radio Amateurs and listeners see it as a form of FISHING, contacting or hearing rare stations and stations using microscopic power levels - waiting hours for that elusive call-sign.
- HANDS-ON CONSTRUCTION is the main interest of others. They like to design and/or build their own equipment.
- Some see it as a way of MEETING NEW PEOPLE. Radio Amateurs are a friendly group who will normally welcome your call or be pleased to discuss technical (and non-technical) aspects of the hobby.
- Others like to TRY OUT OTHER LANGUAGES with native speakers. Whilst many Radio Amateurs speak English, if you speak another language then you can often make use of it.
- EXPERIMENTING is another aspect of the hobby that many Radio Amateurs and listeners like - with new aerials, new frequencies or new equipment.
- Others use their hobby as a form of SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH - listeners and licensed Radio Amateurs have contributed to weather forecasting and astronomy as well as the growth of television and mobile phones.
- To some Radio Amateurs and listeners, it's a form of PUBLIC SERVICE. Radio Amateurs are authorised to transmit on behalf of the emergency services and many belong to the Radio Amateurs Emergency Network (RAYNET), which welcomes listeners as well as licensed amateurs.
As a full Amateur Radio licence holder, you could:
- have fun.
- potentially save lives. When disasters happen, the first news is often sent by Radio Amateurs. In addition, the emergency services often call on the support of Radio Amateurs to help - although there is no compulsion to help if you don't want to.
- operate on over twenty different frequency bands that range in frequency from longer than long wave to microwave and provide a range a speech/data/TV qualities and distances that can be covered.
- contact others from around the corner to the far side of the world and even beyond. (So far, most astronauts have also been Radio Amateurs and a number have contacted other amateurs from space). We even have our own satellites (and you don't need a "Jodrell Bank" in the back garden to use them).
- speak to others, send and receive computer generated messages and pictures at any practicable speed, or even send television signals.
- operate at power levels of up to 400 watts.
- use highly efficient aerials to boost performance still further.
- use repeaters and nodes to link more reliably over longer distances and even over the Internet.
- design, build and modify your own equipment - if you want to.
What about two way radio systems that don't need licences?
There are two types of radio systems that you or I could legally use without getting a licence. They are:
PMR446 (Sometimes just called PMR)
PMR446 is limited to small hand-held radios with built in aerials and a maximum power of ½ watt. There are up to 16 channels available. They are ideal for communicating within a small venue or for children to play with.
Citizens Band (CB) radios are limited to one band, 4 watts and a maximum aerial size. Users are mainly interested in chatting and passing information over a distance of a few miles.
Radio Amateurs have 27 bands, often with hundreds of 'channels' one each band, up to 400 watts on most bands and no limits on aerials (except for the planning authorities). They are free to experiment and to contact others throughout the world - and beyond.
Many of us started as short wave listeners or CB radio enthusiasts.
You dont need a licence to listen to Amateur Radio but you do need a licence to transmit. There are three types of licence available:
- Foundation allows you to use up to 10 watts, using commercially made equipment. The exam is about safety, operating and preventing interference to others.
- Intermediate allows you to use up to 50 watts and to build your own equipment. The exam is about construction and calibration.
- Advanced (or Full) allows you to use up to 400 watts and to supervise others. The exam is about electronics and propagation.
Each licence requires applicants to pass an examination. In order to obtain a full licence, you will either need to take three examinations if you wish to take a stage at a time or two exams in a single session to go direct to a full licence. However, lots of people find that they can do what they want to do with just a foundation (or intermediate) licence. If you take the three stage route and want to progress then you can do it at your own pace. There is no pressure to take the next level. On the other hand, you could progress to a full licence very quickly if you want to.
For more information, please see our training page.
Is Amateur Radio Dangerous?
It can be, but so is crossing the road. However, it's no more dangerous than you want it to be. If you use ready built equipment at low power levels then it can be very safe. On the other hand, if you want to build your own high power transmitter then you have to know what you are doing. Soldering irons are hot and transmitter voltages can be high.
Is Amateur Radio Expensive?
Again, it can be, but it needn't be. The licence itself is free although you will need to pay the exam fees which currently (April 2023) are:
- Foundation £27.50
- Intermediate £32.50
- Advanced £37.50
- Direct to full £95.00
There is lots of second hand equipment available at reasonable prices.
Where do I start?
If you have a radio that is capable of listening to Amateur Signals, we have a page of information on frequencies, language and call-signs. The page also tells you what to look for in a radio to start listening.
If you are already hooked and want to get a licence, please see see the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) website.
Alternatively, why not come along to the club or listen to one of our on the air get togethers. We will be delighted to see you, demonstrate Amateur Radio using the clubs equipment (which is available for licenced members to use) and tell you more about our fascinating hobby