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How to Obtain Your Amateur Radio License


How to Obtain Your Amateur Radio License

This article will provide you with some information on how to study for and obtain your Ham/amateur radio license and what to look for in your first radio.

License Classes

The amateur radio (aka “Ham”) licenses issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are issued in three classes– Technician, General, Amateur Extra (usually just called Extra). Each license class brings increasing privileges of frequencies that can be used.


Testing for the FCC license is conducted by at least three volunteer examiners, otherwise known as VEs. VEs submit test results through a Volunteer Examiner Coordinator, also otherwise known as VECs. The VEC is an organization that creates and administers tests based on FCC guidelines and submits test results to the FCC. The FCC authorizes the VECs to charge a fee for administering exams, currently up to $15.

The license is good for 10 years. If you wish to renew, you simply apply to the FCC.

There are usually exams monthly in most areas of the country. Exams can be found at:

Studying for the Exams

There are a number of websites that offer free study material and sample tests. I have included the links to some websites below.

Some study sites include:

I Passed! What Do I Do Next?

You will receive a Certificate of Successful Completions of Examination (CSCE) when you take your test. You may begin using your new Technician privileges as soon as your name and call sign appear in the FCC database.

What Repeaters Can I Use?

Before you buy a radio, see what is in your area so that you have an idea of what frequencies (bands) you want to talk on. Most common bands are VHF (2 meters) and UHF (440MHz or 70cm). Typically rural areas will have more 2-meter repeaters as the signal covers further. Urban areas tend to have more 440 repeaters. Other repeaters accessible with a Technician license can be found on 23cm (1.2Ghz or “1270” band), 33cm (900Mhz), 1.2 meters (220Mhz), 6 meters, and/or 10 meters.

A Technician class operator can operate in all of these bands. Some repeater search sites are:

  • ArtSciPub
  • The Repeater Book shows search groups by band, type, (i.e., D-STAR, Echolink, IRLP, DMR, linked, et cetera), wide area coverage, systems (repeater groups), use such as ARES, as well as coverage of major routes, and location by towns and counties.

I Have A Radio; Now What?

Listen, listen, listen! You will want to listen for a while to get a feel for how conversations usually go. Find out when local nets are. An internet search, or your local club’s website, will usually have this information. Some nets are informal, while others pass “traffic” messages that are passed from one Ham to another until someone in the intended area takes it and delivers it to the intended recipient. This is just like the old telegram system. It is practiced so when the commercial systems are down in a disaster area, such as in Katrina, messages can still be passed.


Look for an opportunity to be involved with the national Field Day! This will give you great hands-on experience and a chance to contest! CQ Field Day is a wonderful event to get children and teens excited about amateur radio. Field Day is usually held the last full weekend in June.

Community Service:

Your newly acquired Ham radio skills can also be used to help your community in times of emergency, such as forest fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. You can look for an ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services) group in your area. Normally these groups are organized by county.

Other Advice:

It is strongly suggested that you now look at upgrading your license to General so that you can obtain privileges of HF (“shortwave”) and talk longer distances without the need for a repeater.

This article was intended as a “primer” to get you started with your Technician license. I hope you have found this useful. Good luck with obtaining your Technician license, and I hope to catch you on the air sometime.

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