Getting Started in Amateur Radio

Information about our Technician License Class and some general information about amateur radio

About The Technician Course and Exam
An Amateur Radio License is available to qualified applicants.  Our class enables you to qualify for the license.  A team of instructors teach this class using video presentations, class interaction and demonstrations. We want you to LIKE learning about amateur radio and emergency communications and we have a lot of fun presenting the course material. We plan to engage you in the class. You won’t just be sitting there all day looking at a screen; you WILL be challenged to think! Yes, it takes pre-study and a full weekend of your time, but it can also open up a part of the world to you that you may not have known existed.  Emergency communications is a primary focus but it’s not all that we do in amateur radio, as you shall see.

FOR CLASS INFORMATION AND DATES, CHECK OUT “CLASSES”  under the “Events” tab.

What does it cost? All students need a pre-study package including the latest edition of the Gordon West Technician Class License text (question pool 2014 – 2018)  to review before the course.  When you enroll in our class, we provide you with the pre-class study materials including the text for $20.00, plus any costs for mailing if you can’t pick up the materials from us.  Cost of the FCC License exam on Sunday is $15.

To prepare for the exam after you have had some study, take the free online practice exams for the technician class license. Choose questions from the new license pool, valid beginning July 1, 2014.

Course Purpose
This course is designed to prepare you to pass the Technician Class Amateur Radio Federal Communications Commission (FCC) examination in order to then receive your own unique call sign and authorize you to operate your own amateur radio station.  The method and study materials we use have proven highly successful.

About the Exam
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules regarding the Amateur Radio Service require that all control operators of such stations (you) pass a comprehensive exam in several aspects of amateur radio. Some topics include basic electronics theory and antennas, radio etiquette, safety, and rules and regulations. The test consists of 35 multiple-choice questions.  Each question has four possible answers, one of which is correct.  The examination at the conclusion of our class will be administered by a team of volunteer examiners on Sunday afternoon. You pass by correctly answering at least 26 of the 35 multiple-choice questions.  You should have no trouble passing the test, providing you have studied the subject matter before the class, and have taken practice examinations ahead of the class.

The examination team mails the results in to be verified and the FCC then issues you a two-in-one license. The station license part is your call sign, and the operator part sets your privileges; in this case, Technician. The license is valid for 10 years and can be renewed indefinitely; renewal is free.

Exams for US amateur radio operators currently fall into three privilege or “license class” levels: Technician, General, and Extra. Greater privileges are granted with each successive class of license, with the Technician class being the typical entry-level class. But make no mistake; the Technician Class licensee is granted more radio privileges now than at any other time in history.

What are the Course and Exam Costs?
Pre-class study materials including the Gordon West Technician Class license text:  $20.00  Examination Fee: $15.00

What do Radios and Antennas Cost?
This is a difficult question to answer because your privileges will allow you to operate on segments of radio bands that span all but a small part of the entire radio spectrum. Many radios operate on several different bands, but all have different purposes; you are the only person who can make that choice. If you choose to operate on the most popular very high frequency (VHF) band for local contacts, a small hand-held radio and antenna might cost as little as $50.00. If you want to operate long distances in the high frequency bands (HF), you can expect to pay about $400 for a used radio including accessories. In this case, it is best and cheapest for you to build your own wire antenna. These are just rough estimates of cost, and you can expect to pay more for new equipment. In any case, we highly recommend that you team up with someone who has been licensed for some years and can make suggestions. You do not need to “go alone;” we can connect you with an experienced mentor who would be happy to help.

Why Choose This Course Structure?
The best way to teach a course like this is with weekly classes spread over a period of several months with lots of time to read and absorb the information between class meetings. When in class students receive instruction at a pace that allows plenty of time for questions and answers. But most people are VERY busy and cannot commit to a long class schedule.

One modern way to accomplish the task of having students pass the exam is to have the students memorize the correct answer to each possible question.  This approach is possible because all questions and answers to those questions to every amateur radio exam are published and publicly available to anyone. The question pool for the Technician Class license consists of 426 questions, out of which 35 are chosen from the various topics to create an exam. If the student can pick out the correct answer to any question then they can pass the test and receive their license without even understanding the material. Many weekend, 2-day, or 1-day amateur radio courses are structured in this way, and they have a recognized success rate of students who pass the exam.

We don’t like this method for several reasons, the least of which is that it creates mere licensees and not knowledgeable ham radio operators. It is unlikely that your first radio contact will be a confident one regardless of the teaching method used. The difference is that the method we use will give you some background that makes sense. It acts as a foundation upon which to build more understanding and experience as you grow. The “rote memorization method” more often than not leaves the student with a license and no basis or excitement upon which to use it. For this reason, a large percentage of these students never use their license.

Our intensive weekend course is a compromise to the ideal several-month-long course without compromising substance and content.  Realize that our approach requires pre-study from students. Reviewing the pre-class study material and answering its questions before the course is very important. The information in our course comes quickly and there is little time to elaborate.

What Happens After This Course? After I Pass the Exam?
You can operate your station as soon as the FCC assigns you a call sign and enters it into the official database. Many new licensees begin to assemble a station so that they can get on the air when their call sign is assigned. Until this happens it is very useful to listen to typical radio conversations between amateur radio stations to gain experience in radio etiquette and procedures.

We offer follow-on classes and training to aid new amateur radio operators in improving their knowledge base and operating skills.

Ideally, you have a local friend whom is licensed and can show you their station, help you assemble a station of your own and answer your questions. If nobody you know fits this description, our club wants to help fill that need.  Our SCRA members have demonstrated an interest in helping newcomers take their first steps in amateur radio. All you need do is ask and we will work to pair you up with a mentor to help you along! You do not need to join the club to take advantage of this help; of course, you are invited to join if you would like to.  And, we would love to have you join our ham radio club and community.

If you have a computer or a smart phone you can learn much about what you can do with amateur radio. One valuable on-line resource is The ARRL, the National Association for Amateur Radio.  Check out their website: www.arrl.org/what-is-ham-radio.  

For instance, licensed hams are authorized and encouraged to learn about and build their own antennas, station accessories and equipment. There are so many activities and different modes of operating associated with amateur radio that it takes many years to learn about and experience most of them. Just some of these activities include the following:

  • Communicating with hams in other countries and on islands all over the world directly, and via internet linking between ham stations and countries
  • Chatting with others locally
  • Communications using voice, data, teletype, code, pictures, and television
  • Experimenting with new modes of communication
  • Contest operating
  • Operating your station in a remote or distant location
  • Radio direction finding (RDF, “Foxhunting”)
  • Communications using satellites or with astronauts on the International Space Station
  • Public service communications
  • Emergency preparedness and disaster communications
  • Message handling and delivering
  • Serving a local radio club
  • Local radio club activities
  • Serving groups of radio clubs
  • Specialty service such as medical/amateur radio service or pilot/amateur radio service
  • Building, repairing and testing antennas, radios and other equipment
  • Teaching and helping others learn about ham radio
  • Administering FCC amateur radio examinations

Consider Joining SCRA

We are the oldest and largest ham radio club in our area, with over 100 members.  We have monthly meetings and provide members with many opportunities for ham radio related activities throughout the year.  Sonoma County Radio Amateurs wants you to succeed and join us as licensed amateur radio operators.  We love to welcome new members to our club. You don’t have to have a license to join, and visitors interested in amateur radio are always welcome at our meeting.

WE WELCOME YOU TO THE EXCITING WORLD OF AMATEUR RADIO!

Questions?  Please Contact Dave Harrison W6IBC, Education Chair, at w6ibc@arrl.net, or by telephone at 707-838-8155.  We’d love to hear from you.

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