What is Amateur Radio

What is Amateur Radio


Amateur radio encompasses a vibrant community of individuals utilizing radio transmitters and receivers to connect with fellow amateur radio operators globally. If you were to inquire among a dozen amateurs about what ham radio means to them, you’d likely receive twelve distinct responses. Referred to as ham radio operators or simply “hams,” these enthusiasts engage in various activities, with the term “Radio Amateur” less commonly used among the public.

The origin of the nickname “ham” has, for the most part, faded into obscurity. While Amateur (HAM) Radio is primarily a hobby, it often serves a crucial role, especially in emergencies or disasters. It fosters self-learning, intercommunication, and technical exploration among operators. Amateurs engage in diverse activities, from chatting with local acquaintances via handheld transceivers to digitally exchanging messages or crucial information during emergencies. They may also participate in contests, connect with hams worldwide, or experiment with technical aspects.

Millions of individuals worldwide pursue this hobby in their leisure time, engaging in activities such as:

  • QRP (Low Power Operation): Challenging oneself to communicate using very low power, typically on HF bands.
  • HF Radio: Enabling global communication across various frequencies.
  • VHF or UHF Transceivers: Facilitating reliable local communications, extendable via repeaters.
  • DXing: Pursuing long-distance communication opportunities on HF bands.
  • Emergency and Volunteer Services: Providing vital communication support during crises.
  • Technical Experimentation: Building equipment and antennas, exploring technical aspects.
  • Contesting: Competing to make the most contacts within a limited timeframe.
  • Talking to Astronauts: Communicating with astronauts aboard space stations via ham radio.
  • Digital Communication: Utilizing computer interfaces for digital transmissions.
  • Internet Communication: Integrating Internet connections with radio operations.
  • Amateur Television: Broadcasting television signals.
  • Slow Scan TV: Transmitting images globally at minimal cost.
  • Satellite Communications: Operating via amateur satellites for worldwide communication.

The diversity of activities in amateur radio ensures there’s something for everyone, from novices to seasoned operators, enriching the global ham radio community.

How do I get an Amateur / "Ham" Licence?

Q – How do I get an Amateur / “Ham” Licence?

In the United Kingdom (UK), acquiring an Amateur or “Ham” License involves a process overseen by OFCOM and necessitates passing specific tests and examinations administered by the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB).

Presently, there exist three levels of radio licenses: Foundation, Intermediate, and Full. Each level requires successful completion of respective tests before progressing to the next tier. While the Foundation and Intermediate levels incorporate practical assessments, the Full license solely entails passing a written examination and allows for self-study.

Amateur radio operators at any level enjoy unrestricted access to various modes, including AM, FM, SSB, CW, and digital modes like PSK31 or SSTV. However, Foundation licenses are restricted to HF, 2m, and 70cm bands and exclude FSTV, whereas Intermediate and Full licenses grant access to the entire amateur radio spectrum.

RSGB’s written examinations consist of multiple-choice questions and must occur in registered locations under the supervision of RSGB Registered Examiners. A fee is applicable for each examination attempt.

Contrary to past practices, there is no longer a requirement for a CW/Morse Test in UK licenses, with all license holders enjoying the same privileges.

Foundation License Training serves as an introductory level, necessitating basic knowledge of radios, electronics, and circuitry. Practical assessments, including VHF and HF contacts, antenna tuning, and an “Appreciation of Morse” session, precede the written exam. Training courses, often conducted by Amateur Radio Clubs, facilitate preparation for the Foundation license.

Intermediate License Training delves deeper into electronic components and entails more complex practical assessments, such as building electronic projects and tuning a VFO. RSGB’s “Intermediate – Building on the Foundation” book covers all necessary information for the written test and practical elements.

The Full License represents the highest tier and requires extensive knowledge of electronics, radio theory, and aerial theory. While no practical work is involved, a thorough understanding of these concepts is necessary to pass the written examination. Full license holders enjoy considerable freedom in equipment usage, power output, and international operation. Training opportunities for the Full License are less abundant, with home study being a common approach.

The RSGB’s “Advance, the Full Licence” book comprehensively prepares candidates for the Full License examination.

General Limitations
FOUNDATION 50w HF (160m to 10m), VHF (2m) and UHF (70cm)
Commercially made equipment only
UK Only
INTERMEDIATE 100w All UK Amateur Frequencies
Can build / Repair equipment from kits or published plans
UK Only
FULL 1KW All UK Amateur Frequencies
Can build / Repair equipment from scratch
Can operate abroad where reciprocal agreements exist
Can operate Maritime Mobile with permission of the Ship’s Master.

At first, Amateur Radio Station call signs appear to comprise a semi-random collection of letters and numbers, but there is some logic involved (although they’re not as simple to understand as the generally accepted and used FreeBand call signs). The first letter (nearly always) identifies the country in which the licence was issued, and the remaining letters and numbers identify the individual that holds the licence, and perhaps some information about the level of licence held.

LICENCE Current Typical Format Meaning / Historical Examples
FOUNDATION M6abc “M” indicates a UK Licence, “6” indicates the licence is Foundation level “abc” are the individual’s unique identification letters
Previous to “M6” Licenses, Foundation holders were issued “M3”. There is no difference in the two, the change to M6 was simply made because the majority of M3 call-signs had been used.
INTERMEDIATE 2x0abc “2×0” indicates a UK Intermediate Licence), “x” is the Regional Identifier (see below) “abc” are the individual’s unique identification letters 2E0QWE, 2W0DAI, 2M0MCC
FULL M0abc “M” indicates a UK Licence, “0” indicates the licence is Full level “abc” are the individual’s unique identification letters
Previous to “M0” Licenses, all UK Class 1 and Class 2 Licenses were prefixed “G”.
Before the Morse requirement was lifted the last digit usually indicated a Class 1 or Class 2 licence determining whether the licence holder had completed the mandatory Morse Speed Test and could use HF frequencies, or was limited to VHF and above. Now all “G” licenses and “M0” have exactly the same privileges.

A Summary of UK Callsigns follows:

Call sign Issue dates and details
G2 + 2 letters 1920 – 1939
G3 + 2 letters 1937 – 1938
G4 + 2 letters 1938 – 1939
G5 + 2 letters 1921 – 1939
G6 + 2 letters 1921 – 1939
G8 + 2 letters 1936 – 1937
G1 + 3 letters 1983 – 1988 – originally issued as Class B licence
G2 + 3 letters Originally issued as “Artificial Aerial” licence
G2 + 3 letters Originally issued as “Artificial Aerial” licence
G3 + 3 letters Issued between 1946 and 1971. Originally issued to amateur radio Class A licence holders
G4 + 3 letters Issued between 1971 and 1985. Originally issued to amateur radio class A licence holders.
G5 + 3 letters Originally issued to foreign nationals as a form of reciprocal ham radio licence. They were withdrawn
and either they used existing home calls with additional UK prefix / callsign, or if applicable they could
apply for UK licence.
G6 + 3 letters 1981 – 1983. Originally issued as a class B licence
G7 + 3 letters 1989 – 1996. Originally issued as a class B licence
G8 + 3 letters 1964 – 1981. Originally issued as a class B licence
G0 + 3 letters 1986 – 1996. Originally issued as a class A licence
M1 + 3 letters 1996 – . Originally issued as a class B licence.
M0 + 3 letters 1996 – . Originally issued as a class A licence
M3 + 3 letters Foundation licence.
M6 + 3 letters Foundation licence, from May 2008.

UK Amateur Licenses also include a Mandatory Prefix and an optional (but recommended Best Practice) Suffix when used.

PURPOSE: – The Prefix Letter indicates from which Country within the United Kingdom the Radio is currently being operated. If no Prefix is shown it is assumed to be operating in the Default Country, England. However, for Intermediate licenses (only) the “E” is required (eg 2E0MLN). MEANING: – Inclusion of the Suffix letters used to be Mandatory but is now optional (although Recommended). The letter(s) indicate the type of location from which the station is transmitting.

  • W – Wales
  • M – Scotland
  • I – Northern Ireland
  • D – Isle of Man
  • J – Jersey
  • G – Guernsey
  • E – England (Intermediate only)

  • No Suffix – The Station is being operated from the Registered Address of the Licence Holder.
  • /M – Mobile. On foot, Car/Van/Truck or aboard a boat on an inland waterway.
  • /A – Alternate. A UK Address other than the register station.
  • /P – Portable. Operating from a location that does not have a Postcode (eg, Hilltop or Field).
  • /MM – Maritime Mobile (Full Licence only)

  • MW6DSA – MW=Wales/6=Foundation – Foundation Licence in Wales
  • MM3TYU – MM=Scotland/3=Foundation – Foundation Licence in Scotland
  • M0POP – No regional identifier, default is England – Full Licence in England
  • 2D0CAT – “D” identifier=Isle of Man/2×0=Intermediate.
  • MG6TOM – Foundation Licence in Guernsey
  • 2E0CCT – Intermediate Licence in England. (the “E” only shows in the Intermediate Licence)

  • M6NBV/M – Foundation Licence, in England, currently Mobile
  • MM0WEB – No Suffix, Default is at Registered Address, Full Licence at Home in Scotland
  • 2J0RUT/A – Intermediate Licence Currently at Alternative Address in Jersey
  • MW3TRS/P – Foundation Station operating “Portable” in Wales
  • M0TMP/MM – UK Full licence operating from a Ship or Boat on Tidal waters.


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