What is Amateur Radio?

From Wikipedia, in a nutshell:

Amateur radio, often called ham radio, is both a hobby and a service that uses various types of radio communications equipment to communicate with other radio amateurs for public service, recreation and self-training. A participant is called an amateur radio operator, or a ham.

Every year at the Activities Fair, people ask us "Are you the campus radio station?" The answer is usually "Yes, but perhaps not the one you were thinking of!" While our sister station WRCT is Carnegie Mellon's FM broadcast station, W3VC is an entirely different creature.

Amateur radio is all about two-way communication between stations. In fact, there are rules that we must follow to avoid behaving too much like traditional broadcasters. For one, we're not allowed to transmit music. But we can do so much more that your average radio station could never dream of. Have you ever wanted to talk to an astronaut in orbit? Amateur radio can make it happen. How about sending wireless data to someone in Australia using less power than it takes to illuminate a light bulb? Amateur radio has got that covered. Interested in public service? Amateur radio operators regularly volunteer their time to provide communication at civic events like parades and races, or in the event of a natural disaster.

To become an amateur radio operator in the United States, you must obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission. There are three license classes in the U.S., each offering incrementally more privileges. The entry-level Technician license allows you to transmit voice, video, and data on VHF and UHF, as well as limited voice and Morse code on HF. The General class license opens up more of the HF spectrum, which allows your signals to propagate for thousands of miles if atmospheric conditions are right. The Extra class license gives you access to every square inch of spectrum that is allocated by the FCC for amateur use. To obtain any of these licenses, you must first pass one or more multiple-choice exams. These exams are administered by teams of volunteers, including a group here at Carnegie Mellon. There is a small fee to cover the cost of the exam, but the license itself is free and can be renewed for life at no cost once it is granted.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact us! We usually offer exams on campus two or three times each semester. For more information and study resources, visit the ARRL, which is the national association for amateur radio in the United States.