Monday, August 16, 2010

Who Is Amateur Radio For?

This is the first post in what is likely to be a long series that discuss the material on the Amateur Radio licensing examinations. Each post will typically focus on one question from the question pools; there are thousands of these questions so this will probably go on for some time. Some of this material will likely be repetitive with prior posts in this blog, but I will try to make it interesting nonetheless.

T1A01: For whom is the Amateur Radio Service intended?

  1. Persons who have messages to broadcast to the public
  2. Persons who need communications for the activities of their immediate family members, relatives and friends
  3. Persons who need two-way communications for personal reasons
  4. Persons who are interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest

The correct answer is D–Persons who are interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.

(Authority: 97.3(a)(4))

This question's presence in the Technician pool acts to ensure that people who are setting out to become hams will understand both what amateur radio is and also what it is not. Amateur radio is not (as is widely believed, if you believe the random noise I hear on Twitter and Backtype) a means by which one can broadcast one's opinions to myriads of rapt listeners. Nor is it intended as a personal communication service (either with your friends and family, or as a general chat service); people looking to do that should consider whether one of the Personal Radio services, or even a cell phone, would better serve their needs. Amateur radio is intended to allow those who have an interest in radio for its own sake a means to explore and develop their interest. If you are hoping to accomplish something useful, and you're just considering using radio as a means to do that, amateur radio may not be what you're looking for. Especially if the thing you're hoping to accomplish involves making money for yourself or someone else: that's specifically prohibited.

As it happens, the foregoing notwithstanding, there's quite a lot of use of amateur frequencies for what amounts to the broadcasting of opinion (as anyone who has listened to 75 meter phone, or to far too many VHF repeaters, can attest), and it's certainly common to see amateur radio used for personal communication between family members, or for general chatting (the latter is often called "ragchewing"). It's just that these are not part of the principle purposes of the amateur radio service, and the FCC offers other services which are explicitly intended for these purposes.

Fundamentally, if you think the whole concept of flinging signals through the air and catching them halfway across the world (or just halfway down the street) is really awesome and want to play with this more, and are willing to take quite a bit of time to learn some pretty complicated stuff, then ham radio is for you. If you just want to talk to people halfway around the world (or, again, halfway down the street), well, may I suggest Twitter? It's a lot easier to get on Twitter than it is to get a ham radio license, after all, and you don't have to buy nearly as much equipment. Fundamentally, ham radio is a geek thing; if you don't have the knack, then it might well not be for you.