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by disinfoniacs #69 & #1

intro and overview


Before getting into the nitty gritty of rules and regulations, it's good to begin with an overview of radio and, what it is, and what you can do with it. Bold colored text means the fact appears on the license test pretty much exactly as seen.

One important fact to remember: it's ham, not HAM. The word is not an acronym and no one is really certain where it comes from (despite endless claims otherwise online). Don't write HAM online, someone will correct you (hams love being pedants).

what can radio do?

Radio Frequencies (RF) (and microwaves which we’ll lump in here) comprise a huge portion of our modern technological infrastructure with everything from cell service to Wi-Fi, GPS to weather satellites, radar, and of course walkie-talkies (or handheld transceivers [HT] as they’re known in ham). As you learn about this world, you can start to get a glimpse into the huge amount of invisible electromagnetic radiation (EMR) we are surrounded by constantly that makes our world function.

With a license, time, and practice you can start to make this world work for you for communication, data gathering, whatever else you can imagine. This is a hobby that encourages experimentation and doing things yourself (within the realm of the law, as we’ll go over in later chapters).

To get started at taking a peek into this world, you might want to purchase a Software Defined Radio (SDR) which for ~$35 can let you visualize and explore a large amount of radio frequencies from the comfort of your computer or phone. This device cannot transmit (so you don’t need a license), but with the correct software and antenna setup you can listen to municipal radio (police, fire, EMS, transportation, etc), read smart meters from electricity/gas/water, stingray some cellphones, intercept weather stations, get live feeds from weather satellites, track airplanes from 100’s of kilometers away, intercept smart devices (doorbells, car doors, key fobs, etc), tune into shortwave stations around the world (including spy number stations), listen to ham frequencies, decode GPS, tune into AM/FM, do primitive passive radar (a bit more complicated), and so much more. With radio, you’re really only limited by your imagination and technical chops.

You can try using a publicly accessible SDR via a web interface at websdr.org to listen and see audio transmissions across the spectrum.

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