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Amateur Radio Services

Curt Bartholomew, Senior Emergency & Continuity Manager, PSHSB (N3GQ)

The FCC established amateur radio as a voluntary, non-commercial, radio communications service. It allows licensed operators to improve their communications and technical skills, while providing the nation with a pool of trained radio operators and technicians who can provide essential communications during emergencies.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is amateur radio?

Amateur radio involves amateur radio operators communicating locally and worldwide using store-bought or homemade radios, computers, satellites, and even the internet. Many amateur radio operators or "hams" serve as emergency communicators during the initial stages of emergencies and disasters. Amateur radio operators must be licensed and pass an examination for the FCC license to operate on radio frequencies known as the "Amateur Bands". These amateur bands are reserved by the FCC for use by hams at intervals above the AM broadcast band into extremely high microwave frequencies.

Why do I need a license?

Licensees are given transmitting privileges on a wide variety of amateur bands. Methods of transmission are specified by FCC rules; therefore, it is necessary to be generally familiar with operating limitations in order to transmit lawfully. Note: No amateur radio station shall transmit communications for hire or for material compensation or communications in which the station licensee or control operator has a pecuniary interest, including communications on behalf of an employer.

Are there different classes of licenses?

Yes, and there is a single written test for each license class. The license classes are:
Technician Class - this is the entry level license. It gives privileges on all amateur frequencies above 50 Mhz and is the most popular.
General Class - this is the mid-level license. It enables privileges on most amateur frequencies below 50 Mhz and includes global HF (shortwave) communications.
Extra Class - this is the highest level license. It grants privileges on all amateur frequencies. The technician and general class written tests are required.

Do I have to learn Morse code?

While many hams like to use Morse code, it is no longer required.

What are some of the other ways amateur radio operators communicate?

There are a variety of ways that amateur radio operators communicate; using voice is just one. Morse code is still widely used. Even faster transmissions are being developed using methods which can send almost any form of digital data. Hams also use television to send pictures over the air.

Where are the amateur radio bands located?

The FCC has allocated 26 bands to amateur radio services. These bands are spaced from 1.8 Megahertz to 275 Gigahertz of the radio communications spectrum. While many hams simply enjoy talking to friends, others pursue a wide variety of specialized interests, such as:

  • Amateur television;
  • Amateur radio emergency communications;
  • Communicating via amateur satellites;
  • High speed multimedia and TCP/IP;
  • Packet radio;
  • Portable, fixed, mobile and handheld operation;
  • Severe weather spotting (National Weather Service - Skywarn);
  • Tracking tactical information using the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS), which may integrate with the GPS;
  • Using the Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) to connect radio repeaters via the Internet.

What is the ARRL?

Founded in 1914, the 150,000-member Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the largest association of amateur radio enthusiasts in the United States.

Amateur Service During Government Disaster Drills

  • During emergencies, amateur radio operators may transmit messages to other amateur stations, subject to the privileges authorized for the class of license the amateur station control operator holds. For these transmissions, no special FCC permissions are required. Some amateur radio operators coordinate their communications through groups referred to as "networks" or "nets."

  • Messages may be transmitted on behalf of unlicensed individuals, at the discretion of the amateur station licensee. These messages are referred to as third party communications. The FCCs rules permit an amateur station to transmit messages for a third party to any other amateur station within the jurisdiction of the United States. Amateur stations in the United States may transmit third party communications to amateur stations outside the United States under certain circumstances.

Some Amateur Radio Organizations

Other Amateur Information on the FCC Web Site


Amendment of Part 97 of the Commission's Rules Regarding Amateur Radio Service Communications During Government Disaster Drills.
Report and Order: Word | Acrobat

FCC Issues Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Seeking Comment on Amateur Radio Service Rules Related to Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Readiness Drills and Tests.
Public Notice: Word | Acrobat

FCC Reminds Communications Providers How to Contact Agency for Emergency Assistance.
Public Notice: Word | Acrobat

Thank you to the ARRL, the National Association for Amateur Radio, for contributions to this web page.