"Ham" radio -- what is it good for?

I saw a customized licence plate with what I assume were amateur radio call letters.

I think I can imagine that such equipment would have been dandy to have around 1968. But what, in the age of the internet, are amateur radios being used for?

The same thing they were always used for. The Amateur Radio community is alive and well today, I can assure you. While many hams use the internet, and indeed, have their own webpages, they are still very active in RF voice and Morse communications. There are several specialized areas of Amateur Radio that are still challenging and interesting, such as low-power long-distance (QRP DX) communications, Amateur Television (ATV), satellite communications, Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) communications and others too numerous to name. Amateur Radio has bits of the RF spectrum from 180 meters up to the microwave band, and there is a wide range of experimental communication modes to play around with.

Also, many hams operate stations that can run for days or weeks completely independent of the power or telephone grid, so if a major disaster strikes, the Amateur Radio community can and does quickly step in to provide life-saving communications. Ham radio is far from dead or useless.

73–Q.E.D., KB2YYR

To continue with what fellow ham Q.E.D said: Hams are often the only means of communications when disaster strikes. Cell sites quickly become overcrowded and unavailable. They provided essental communications in NYC after the 9/11 attack. They provide commmunications during tornados and hurricanes. They were the only ones able to communicate reliably during the search for shuttle debris after the re-entry failure. We also provide communication for various public service events such as fairs, walk-a-thons and the like.

Some hams belong to MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System) and provide phone patches and health and welfare traffic between GIs and familys back home.

73 de WØGOM

Ah, but the real question is should a HAM license still require morse code :wink:

Originally hams built their rigs and experimented with the designs and with the use of the equipmen but it has got to the point where stes are too complicated and are consumer electronics like anything else (although, of course, you can still tinker a lot if you want). Although I still keep my call sign I have to admit I have not been active or tinkered in many years. I do tinker with electronics but just not with radio any more

We also work with the national weather service thru the Skywarn program providing real-time information on precipitation and wind speed.


A ham license hasn’t required Morse code for a number of years. There are still license classes that require it, but at least since the early 80’s there has been at least one No-Code class. I’m not sure about the license structure now, and I’m too lazy at the moment to look it up, but up until a few years ago, there was the Technician No-Code class, that had no code requirement, and allowed access to 6-meter and 2-meter voice, 220 MHz and 440 MHz voice, and some 1250 MHz microwave, too. 10-meter and lower bands always required at least a General class license with 5 WPM Morse code. This may have changed since the license class restructuring.

Morse code? Yes, at least for the extra class, 5 WPM is bad enough, and it does still have its uses.

I’m not a ham, and have never really been interested. But …

It is a hobby and therefore by definition doesn’t have to be “good” for anything except to the participant.

Others have mentioned the still existing usefulness, but that is a bonus and isn’t required.

I knew it sounded snarky when I wrote the OQ, but I was too lazy to re-write it. Sorry.

So, if I may surmise, aside from emergency use, it’s fun to tinker with. If I were to find my old multi-band radio and tune in to some amateur radio (during a non-crisis), what might I hear? (please, anything but classic rock.)

David Simmons posted precisely what I was thinking, and what I have heard/read many times. I’m not sure the usefulness of HAM is as justified as it once was; but its a great hobby and that’s good enough.

One of the clubs that I am involved with (http://www.qsl.net/k1usn/) has an extremely active Scouting program involving Ham radio. My daughter (KB1JYQ) and I spend a couple Saturdays a week working with both boy and girl scouts in the radio room and teaching Morse code, great fun! We also got to take part in the Marconi centennial on Cape Cod (http://www.arrl.org/news/stories/2002/12/23/1/?nc=1) just having something like this to do with your teen age daughter, that she looks forward to, is fabulous! (That’s her in red in the next to last picture)

More on Skywarn: Most skywarn people around here are hams, there is a ham station at the NWS office and someone mans it during sever WX. Oublic agencies like hams because they pay for thier own radios…

Older classes are grandfathered, but in the US there are 3 classes now:
Technician: no code needed. 50 MHZ and up
General: 5 WPM code. some HF (shortwave) priveledges
Extra: 5 WPM code. full HF priveledges
(all 3 have a written test)

Brian (N9IWP in case you didn’t guess)

If I may, is a HAM license required to run a SSB radio on a boat?

That depends on the frequency range you are using. If it’s SSB CB in the 27 MHz band, then no.

I have tried to get into Ham two or three times. I have never had the good luck to find a firendly group who supported new people coming into the hobby.

The hobby seems (from my limited experience) to be dying. Few new poeple (and few of them non-White or non-Male) seem to come in at the bottom while age takes it toll on the membership.

I would suppose young people who once would have gone into Ham are now going into computer hobbies.

I am sure there are lots of nice Ham groups out there, my experience was probably atypical. Still, I have to report what I have seen first-hand.

Most ham operators I’ve known are a little…peculiar. That said, however, without them we would have been up the creek in 1964 when the earthquake hit Alaska. And I used the MARS facility frequently when deployed overseas with the military.

<Edwin Starr>

*Ham – what is it good for?

Aah-ab-solutely nothing!
</Edwin Starr>

Sorry – I couldn’t resist.

I have a brother who’s a licensed ham operator, and in answer to the OP, I can state that it’s much more practical and useful than any of my hobbies.

I lived 1.5 miles from the epicenter of the Northridge Earthquake in 1994.

I was the only communication in our area for 16 hours. Most of the morning was taken up with emergency medical calls. I contacted a ham in Long Beach, and he stayed with me for several hours, making the 911 calls as needed, as I made my way through the neighborhood, seeing who needed medical attention.

About 15 minutes into this, I wandered out onto Balboa Blvd, a block and a half from where I was living, and heard a WHOOOSH! A severed gas main had been set on fire by a pickup truck that stalled in the intersection. It was an interesting sight, because a water main had also been severed. So we had a fire in the middle of a geyser of water. Three houses were destroyed in the fire. I was the first to report the fire on my 2 meter handheld radio.

Later on in the morning, after things had calmed down, the ham in Long Beach offered to call someone for me. I asked him to call my mom in Utah and let her know I was just fine, that I had made it through the quake with no problem.

Cell phones wouldn’t work, landline phones were knocked out, but the radios came through in the pinch.

Just my personal experience. Glad I’m a ham and was able to help people in an emergency. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I needed to.

And yes, I do enjoy just talking to people as well!


I’ve never been clear on the difference between ham radio and CB radio. Is it simply that CB radio has a shorter range?