My Experience Getting Licensed in Ham Radio

I just got my ham radio license! I started studying for my ham radio test at the suggestion of my friend David, who was also studying for his first license at the time. He made a strong pitch to my technological curiosity and urban survivalist interests by suggesting we could potentially communicate with each other without the assistance of the power grid or cell tower networks.

I bought the spiral-bound Technician Class manual, and its corresponding question book, and began reading. Since I’m already familiar with basic electronics, some of the concepts were easy to grasp.

Other topics were completely new to me, like ham etiquette and the regulatory stuff. Wave behaviors stood out as particularly fun and novel to me– here’s an awesome video about wave behaviors that helps illuminate the subject beautifully:

I picked up a portable radio that I’ve seen commonly recommended as a first radio: it’s a BaoFeng UV-5R (3rd generation) (with an upgraded antenna). I looked up the times and frequencies of some nets in my local area and tuned my radio to listen in. I found it helpful to pick up a programming cable, so I could program my local repeaters and stations into my radio’s memory.

Listening to traffic nets made for a great backdrop for study sessions with David and my boyfriend, Smokey. Folks check in from all over the NYC and New Jersey, so there’s an amusing variety among the accents that can be heard on the air.

I talked about my studies on Twitter and Instagram, and found an outpouring of friendly support, call signs, and 73s. One important thing I learned about filing for a license: the address you use to apply will be published in the FCC database, so use a PO box if you don’t want to make your home address public.

I took the exam in Brooklyn, in the conference room of a hospital admin building. Five proctors lead the exams. I sat next to a pre-teen boy taking a more advanced level test.

I paid a $15 fee in cash and a proctor checked my ID and checked that my calculator was cleared if it was capable of being programmed (no smartphone calculators are allowed). The certificate form was an old-school carbon copy document with three layers. I filled out another form and also the info box on my answer sheet. Scrap paper for calculations was offered to us, but I had brought my own. A proctor distributed the test booklets and asked us not to write on them. We recorded our answers on the answer sheet, coloring in pencil to cover up the letter corresponding to the selected answer.

I had prepared by taking some practice tests online, all of which I passed, and fairly quickly. For some of the harder questions, it helped to study the material but also to practice the specific questions that trip you up.

During the exam, the proctors began to chat with one another. Most were whispering, except for one extra loud guy. It was totally distracting!

I passed the test! So I received the opportunity to and did take the next level exam right away. I didn’t pass, but hey, I didn’t study or pay extra, either.

But now I’ve got the General class manual and am studying for the next level exam myself, which will unlock some HF bands.

So far, from my house, I can only communicate with my closest repeater if I go outside on the roof. So I’m already making plans to put an antenna up there and run the cable inside, so I can make better use of my license in less than ideal weather.

So if you’re already a ham, please let me know your call sign in the comments below!


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