What Is Ham Radio? A Complete Guide

What Is Ham Radio? A Complete Guide

Strictly speaking, ham radio is another term for amateur radio, but the definition goes much deeper than that. There are hundreds of thousands of amateur radio users all over the globe, contributing to a friendly network of communication. It can be used to contact someone across town, in a different city, or even in an entirely different country!

Amateur radio is a fantastic tool for radio enthusiasts that want to deepen their understanding of different frequencies - all while making worldwide connections. And its origins? Amateur radio only dates back to the nineteenth century, but technology has come a long way since then.

If you are interested in gadgets or electronics, ham radio could become your new favourite hobby. To inspire you further, we'll take you through everything you need to know about ham radio and how you can get involved. Let's get into it! 

How Does Ham Radio Work?

Ham radio works by utilising a network of frequencies upheld by amateur radio operators worldwide, all with unique equipment setups. 

The Technology of Ham Radio

A lot goes into a ham radio setup, but don't let that put you off. Although it can initially seem a little overwhelming, once you get a handle on the intricacies, amateur radio becomes a tool for worldwide communication and exploration. Whilst there are numerous ways to build your own ham radio system, we do see some similarities. Let's walk you through some of the key components of every amateur radio setup. 

  • Radio Transceiver: As the name suggests, this is a combination of a transmitter and a receiver. This transceiver allows you to send and receive information via your connected frequency.

  • Antenna: Used to boost your connectivity, the antenna allows you to connect to signals and frequencies. Antennas vary greatly, with some capable of reaching signals much further away than others.

  • Power Supply: For any electronic device to work, there has to be a power supply. With ham radio, your power supply is a specific device that attaches to your setup, allowing everything to function as it should.

  • Coaxial Cable: Widely used in telephone and radio to convey data, this cable is also used with your radio to convert radio waves into audio for you to receive.

  • Microphone: This component is what you'll speak into when you're transmitting as opposed to receiving, allowing you to communicate on your chosen frequency.

  • Headphones: We all use headphones as personal listening devices, but this is how you will listen to incoming messages and signals in the ham radio world. Invest in a quality pair to produce the most precise sound!

  • Keypads: When you need to key in specific information to connect to a particular frequency, use your keypads. They're your bridge to the outside world!

Once you've assembled these key pieces, you're good to go! All you need to do is find the right frequency to connect to, and you can start broadcasting and receiving signals. 

How to Get Started with Ham Radio

To get started with amateur radio, you will not only need to invest in the right equipment but also the proper licensing. And importantly, the kind of license you need changes based on which side of the Atlantic you're on, so let's discuss!

Requirements to Obtain a Ham Radio License in the UK

Within the UK, you must follow the requirements of Ofcom regulations. There are three key levels of qualification offered:

  • Foundation

  • Intermediate

  • Full

You must pass the appropriate exam at the corresponding level to qualify for each level. The RSGB administers these exams, and you don't need to complete the foundation or intermediate before applying for the full license. With test preparation and requirements in mind, you can apply for any exam as you wish! 

Requirements to Obtain a Ham Radio License in the USA

Let's talk about the other side of the pond. Earning your license as an amateur radio operator in the USA works much the same as it does in the UK, with three different types of licenses currently available. These are administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but exams are carried out via volunteer examiners in your local community. The classes include:

  • Technician

  • General

  • Amateur Extra

Each classification possesses unique privileges based on the skill demonstrated in the examination, from speaking to operators worldwide to greater access to bandwidths. 

Finding Local Ham Radio Clubs and Resources

One of the best things about amateur radio is the ability to communicate with like-minded people across a state, a country, and beyond! Finding people to send and receive messages from has never been easier, as the RSGB now has their very own Club Finder resource.

Once you get to an online resource, enter your town's name, postcode, and desired distance to find your nearest radio club. You're on your way to connecting with amateur radio enthusiasts, trading tips and ideas on the best equipment and most popular frequencies. 

Applications of Ham Radio

There are multiple uses for ham radio that don't just involve recreational fun. Indeed, there's more than meets the eye when it comes to amateur radio, so let's walk you through some of its handiest utilisations. 

Emergency Communication

Although we hope you never find yourself in this circumstance, ham radio can make all the difference in an emergency. Not only could it allow you to send out distress signals if needed, but it could also provide you with information about a local emergency such as a fire or traffic accident. It's a network of mutual aid! 

Non-Commercial Exchange of Messages

On a lighter note, ham radio can also be used for topical conversation. Amateur radio isn't about making money; it's about making friends and broadening your circle of fellow radio nerds. Connect with a diverse group of people around the world with low stakes!

Wireless Experimentation

The world of radio is fascinating, and with your unique setup, feel free to play around with different devices and experiment with wireless communication. Different antennas, transceivers, and power supplies can significantly impact the performance of your setup, so don't be afraid to try new gadgets!


As much as amateur radio is intended to be fun, it's also a valuable skill for self-training and self-reliance. Understandably, that's part of the beauty of the various licenses and graduating levels. It's your call! The more time you spend operating your radio setup, the more skilled you will become at it - and that's an enriching experience. 

Private Recreation

The primary purpose behind ham radio is fun. Since it can't be used for commercial purposes, it's designed for those who love all things radio and want to experiment with their own frequencies. There's no right or wrong way to enjoy ham radio. You don't have to transmit if you don't want to; you could merely listen to what's happening across multiple frequencies! It's entirely up to you. 


One of the other ways to have fun with amateur radio is by engaging with radiosport (occasionally referred to as radio sport). This is a formal competition between amateur radio operators wherein participants attempt to make as many two-way connections with other stations as possible. Different rules are usually applied between games, with varying parameters to increase difficulty or raise the stakes. 


Finally, contesting is a great way to test your skill and understanding of amateur radio. Contesting is exactly what it sounds like: contests between operators to test their skill and knowledge of propagation. Over the last decade, participant numbers in amateur radio contesting have increased by the thousands, meaning there's never been a better time to get into it! Let your inner amateur radio nerd shine!

Got Questions? Contact Moonraker Today!

The world of ham radio can seem a little daunting at first. It looks like a lot of equipment is involved, and broadcasting to strangers can be quite overwhelming! The truth is, it isn't as complex or intimidating as it may initially seem. Ham radio is simply another highly enjoyable hobby for you to fall in love with - and a fantastic way to explore the world.

At Moonraker, we strive to provide our customers with the best radio equipment and accessories. If you have any questions about getting started with ham radio, we're a great place to start. Feel free to get in touch with any questions or curiosities; our customer support team will be more than happy to help. Check out our full collection and have a great time searching the skies!