In order to operate amateur radio, you need a license. Just like driving a car, using the public airwaves is a legally-regulated privilege. U.S. licenses are good for ten years before renewal. There are three license classes — Technician, General and Extra.
The Technician class license is the entry-level license of choice for most new ham radio operators. The Technician license requires passing one examination totaling 35 questions on radio theory, regulations and operating practices. The license gives access to all amateur radio frequencies above 30 Mhz, allowing communication locally and within North America. It also allows limited privileges on the high frequency bands (also called “HF” or “short wave”) used for international communications.
The General class license grants some operating privileges on all amateur radio bands and all operating modes. This license opens the door to worldwide communication. Earning the General class license requires passing a 35 question examination. General class licensees must also have passed the Technician exam.
Amateur Extra License
The Amateur Extra class license conveys all available U.S. amateur radio operating privileges on all bands and all modes. Earning the license is more difficult: It requires passing a thorough 50 question examination. Extra class licensees must also have passed the Technician and General exams.
How to Get Your License
In our area, examinations are conducted on the second Saturday of each month by volunteer members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), Los Angeles Northeast Section. These exam sessions are held at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.
Second Saturday of every month
Huntington Memorial Hospital
100 W. California Blvd.
Wingate Building Conference Room
Free parking available off-campus. (The Huntington structure charges.)
Many other exam opportunities are available almost every weekend (and some weekdays) in the Los Angeles area. You can search for upcoming license exam sessions on the ARRL’s website.
You can prepare for the test either by studying independently or by taking an in-person class.
Path 1: Independent Study
Option 1 (free)
Give yourself about ten days before the test and devote 1-2 hours a day to studying.
- Download and read Dan KB6NU Romanchik’s No-Nonsense Technician-Class License Study Guide.
- If you prefer videos, check out HamCollege.tv.
- Practice with HamStudy.org’s free flash cards until you have seen all the possible questions and then take practice tests. If you score more than 85% on a regular basis, you are ready to take the test.
Option 2 (approx. $30)
- Read “The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual” on your own a few hours a day for a few weeks. The manual is available from many vendors including the ARRL, Amazon and Ham Radio Outlet in Burbank.
- Gordon West, WB6NOA publishes print and audio books covering all three license classes.
- Take the practice tests at QRZ.com (a ham community site) or HamStudy.org. or HamExam.org.
Option 3 (approx. $25)
Take an online class. For example, HamTestOnline seems to work well.
Path 2: Take an In-Person Class
In Southern California there are some excellent choices for taking classes.
- The Goodkin 1-Day Ham Radio Class is very popular. It costs $75 (as of 09/2016).
- In addition to his self-study line, Gordon West also has registered instructors.
- Contact your local radio club (see below). Many offer classes with exams immediately following.
Take the Test
You studied hard, your practice tests went well, you are ready. Here is some advice to make test day go smoothly:
- On test day bring a state-issued I.D., $15, two pencils, an eraser and a calculator. If you already have an FCC Registration Number (FRN), bring that also. You do not need an FRN before taking the test; just use your Social Security number. You may take one, two or all three level exams on the same day for one $15 fee. However, if you fail any element and you decide to take it again, you will need to pay another $15 fee.
- Take the test, ace it, and thank the nice people who administer it. They are volunteering their time!
After the Test
After passing the test you cannot transmit on the air until your license appears in the FCC database. The Volunteer Examiners will tell you how you can check FCC.gov for your new license and call sign. While you wait you can buy yourself a radio, read the manual, and even set up stations and listen. But do not transmit until the FCC has issued you a license! Take a look at our page of local radio organizations and repeater systems for a sample of what the ham community offers. And of course feel free to contact us here at SPARC.