If you’ve ever heard ham radios mentioned in movies, you may find yourself a tad confused. “Ham radios!? What do radios have to do with ham? The term “ham” is believed to come from the term “amateur”. No-one truly knows where the true birth to the term came from though, as it’s just one of those things that popped up and the other Amateur Radio users adopted the term.
You may also be wondering, what in the heck are the differences between ham radios and just the typical AM/FM radios that you see at retail stores. The answer to that question is simple. In regards to the basic fundamentals of the Radio Frequency aspect, there is basically no difference! Both types are just pieces of technology that, in essence, receive and transmit signals from one party to another. So in that respect, ham radios and other radios are of the same basic concept fundamentally. There are, however, many differences when it comes to operating procedures and the amount of work you have to do in order to operate an amateur radio. Here are the five major differences:
1. Ham radios require a license. Licenses are required because ham radios operate in frequencies that are capable of talking much further than any regular old radio could. Licenses are also required because ham radios have been used in emergency situations many times. If you, as an inexperienced user, interfere with emergency communications you may be endangering people’s lives. Because of this, the feds have made laws regarding these radios and one of the laws states that you need a license to legally operate a ham radio.
2. Ham Radios are more of a true “two-way” radio communication; in the aspect you are more interactive with the other party. With a standard AM/FM radio in your vehicle, you receive the signal, and the broadcast station “transmits” the signal. These procedural responsibilities are fixated between you and the other user, whereas with a Ham Radio, you and the party at the other end can transmit and receive equally. This creates a more interactive means of communication.
3. Ham radios “talk” in different frequencies/bands than regular AM/FM radios. These bands make it so ham radios can talk much further than you may think. You certainly won’t reach Tokyo from the U.S. on the 2 meter band, but you may be able to do just that if you are operating on, say, the 160 meter band.
4. They are much more expensive than regular radios. Granted, you may be able to find used ham radios that are cheap, but generally they tend to cost more. Ham radio equipment adds up because you have to buy many different types of equipment to make them work properly and to maintain their functions. Regular radios usually come in an all in one, ready to use package. Ham radios are different! You’ll find yourself buying a transceiver, a power supply, a SWR (Standing-Wave-Ratio reading) wattmeter, and cables. The price adds up!
5. You generally have to do extra antenna work. You can either build one from scratch, or install one that comes commercially made. Most “real” amateur radio operators prefer to build their own from scratch. This is cheaper, but there also comes a sense of pride of designing, building, and installing your own radio antenna!
Please don’t let these five major differences scare you away though. With a ham radio, you can keep your family safe in case of an emergency, you can talk with people and make some new, interesting friends from around the world! Ham Radio is also a hobby where you can have lots and lots of fun and learn a thing or two in the process. You’ll also find forum after forum online with tons of useful information regarding ham radio equipment. Don’t let it boggle your mind! Take it one step at a time. Read a post, digest it. Read another post and then make sure you truly understand what is said. Rinse and repeat! You’ll soon find yourself on your way to become a ham radio expert. Good luck!
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