How to become a "HAM"

Clarksville Amateur Radio Transmitting Society

Why become a Ham? click here...

Become a Ham   

       The “Clarksville Amateur Transmitting Society” (CATS), club is an organization of amateur (ham), radio operators dedicated to community service, emergency communications, and the promotion of the science and art of radio.  Club members assist the Clarksville Police Department with supplemental communication and traffic/crowd control at parades, marathons, walkathons, bike runs and other events as needed.  During severe weather, or other emergencies, when normal lines of communication are either down, or overloaded, CATS members, working in conjunction with established emergency organizations, step in to assist where required.  Don’t think we’re all business:  along the way we have some fun, too!  We do field work with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and conduct a weekly net operation.  America’s “hams” are part of an international fellowship of radio enthusiasts who share the same interests and possess the same sense of dedication.  Interested in becoming a ham operator?  CATS is actually holding free license classes for anyone interested.   Classes are held on Monday evenings starting at 6pm. For more information, contact Jimmie Shelton at 931-431-4081.  When you think you’re ready, we have members who are FCC certified through the W5YI GROUP to administer license examination. (for more information click on 'Testing')

                                        73s and good luck.


This website is intended as a resource for those studying to pass any one of the different levels of amateur radio exam within the United States.   The complete question pools are available on this site in Text format.

Amateur code

What is Amateur  Radio?: Amateur Radio (nicknamed "ham radio") is the greatest hobby in the world! Ham radio operators use a variety of different radio frequencies to make friends with people all over the world, communicate over orbiting space satellites, and provide emergency communications during disasters.


Ham radio, as it is often called, is a hobby.   It is a non-commercial radio communication service whose primary aims are public service, technical training, experimenting with radio electronics, and leisure communication between private persons.  Hams are noted for providing communications in times of emergency or disaster.  Ham radio exists in nearly every country and on the same frequencies.   This allows amateur radio operators to communicate internationally.   Amateur Radio is governed by the Federal Communications Commission and by Part 97 of the Title 47 Telecommunications regulations. By international treaty, the amateur and amateur-satellite services are for qualified persons of any age who are interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.   In areas where the services are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, an amateur operator must hold an FCC or Canadian license or be a foreign-licensed amateur whose country has entered into a reciprocal licensing/operating arrangement with the United States or who holds a CEPT or IARP license.


The FCC has an excellent online bulletin entitled How to Obtain An Amateur Radio License here.  In the United States, Amateur Radio is administered by the Federal Communications Commission.   The FCC requires hams show competency and knowledge of electronics, radio frequency safety, operating procedures, and basic rules and regulations by passing different written and Morse Code proficiency exams.  There are currently three classes of amateur radio license in the U.S., each with progressively higher privileges and each requiring a progressively more difficult exam. 


Information from the A.R.R.L. "American Radio Relay League" on becoming a Amateur Radio Operator

What Can I do with a Ham Radio License?: 

There are so many things, it's a difficult question to answer, but here's some ideas:

...and this is only the beginning! You are limited only by your imagination and ingenuity.





Anyone can become a ham except representatives of foreign governments.  There are no age restrictions. If you can pass the written you can be a licensed ham operator.  There have even been 6 year old ham operators. No Morse code proficiency is needed for any license classes.  That license class began in 1991 and now has the largest number of participants.  To become a "Technician" Class operator, you need only pass one very simple (35 question) multiple choice written tests (Exam Element 2) to obtain your FCC license.


Up until April 15, 2000, there were six classes of Amateur Radio operator license, each authorizing varying levels of privileges.  There are now only three, Technician, General and Amateur Extra Class.  The class for which each examinee is qualified is determined by the degree of skill and knowledge in operating a station that the examinee demonstrates by passing a license examination before a team of three volunteer examiners (VEs) in his or her community.  Most new amateur operators start at the Technician class and then advance to the General Class ...and later to the top-of-the line Amateur Extra Class. 


Where can I take a test?
Testing sessions for amateur radio license exams can be found at various locations around the country.  Sessions usually take place on weekends or on weekday evenings because these times provide the most accessibility to the largest number of people.   Most testing sessions take place an public buildings.  Popular locations include public libraries, police stations, senior citizen's centers and the like.

The C.A.T.S Club offers several W5YI VE's that are able to administer the exams.  Click here to contact them.  You can find a local test session by visiting the KF4L/TESTING page at FIND THE LOCAL TEST SESSION 

What is the test like?
If you've ever taken a multiple choice question test in high school or college, then you are already familiar with the basic format.

Are there any trick or secret questions on the tests?
No.  By FCC rules all of the test questions and answers must be published beforehand.  The entire question pools for all five amateur radio exams are contained elsewhere on this site.

Can I use my notes when taking the tests?
No.  You can use scratch paper or a calculator for figuring out math problems, but you can't bring any notes with you when taking your exam.  Also, if you have a calculator with memories, you will have to show the examiners that all of the memories are cleared before being allowed to use it for the test.

What if I have special needs?
The FCC rules allow the examiners to be flexible when administering tests to those with special needs.  They will be able to provide tests in Braille or administer the exam verbally to sight impaired examinees, for instance.  If you will need this kind of special assistance when taking your exam, please make sure to mention it when you call to pre-register for the exam. 

Who administers the exams?
The ham radio license exams are administered by volunteers amateurs of general class or higher.  These VEs (Volunteer Examiners) receive no compensation for their work, so be sure to thank them!

How much does an amateur radio license cost?
There is no cost for having an amateur radio license.  The license is FREE!   However, there may be a slight fee to take a test for a new license or an upgrade.   VEs are allowed to charge a small fee to offset the costs that they incur when administering tests.  This fee is currently  $14.00 per exam.

What about Morse code?
No Morse code examination is required for amateur radio license.  

How many different classes of license are there?
In the U.S. there are three classes of ham radio license.  The entry-level class is called the Technician class.   It requires only a single 35 question theory exam.  

There are also two additional higher classes called General and Extra.  The requirements for each of the classes are progressive.  For instance, you must complete all the requirements for Technician class before completing the requirements for General class.  The General class requires an additional 35 question test.  The General class license conveys worldwide privileges on short-wave amateur radio frequencies.  The Extra class requires an additional 50 question theory test and conveys full amateur radio privileges. 

I would like to get my ham license.  Which class should I study for?
Study for the Technician class exams first.  This enables you to get on the air and operate.   If you later decide to expand your operating interests you will be able to upgrade to General by passing only an additional 35 question theory test.

I just passed my test.  When can I get on the air?
As soon as your call sign is issued.  These days most filing is done electronically, and call signs are usually issued in 3-7 working days.  Check an on-line call sign database like WM7D everyday to see if your new call sign was issued yesterday!  As soon as you have your call sign, you can start enjoying ham radio.

If you already have a license, and you just passed an upgrade to a higher class, you can get on the air using your new privileges immediately.  You just have to append your current call sign with an identifier such as /AE for Extra class or /AG for General class.

How far can I talk on ham radio?
Different frequencies allow you to talk different distances.  An entry-level Technician class license will give you access all ham frequencies above 30 MHz.  This gives you access to the popular Two Meter (144 MHz), 1.35 Meter (222 MHz) and 70 Centimeter (440 MHz) ham bands.  These frequencies will give you a day-to-day range of about 50-100 miles depending on your equipment.  You'll also have access to the exciting 6 Meter (50 MHz) "DX" band where contact of up to 3,000 miles are possible.  As you progress to higher classes of license, you'll get access to ham radio's short-wave frequencies, below 30 MHz, where you can work stations around the world each and every day of the year.

What does ham radio equipment cost?  What kind of radio should I buy?
Again, there's no one right answer for everyone.  Most people usually start out with a Two Meter or a dual band (Two Meter / 70 Centimeter) handheld.  This has the advantage of being portable, so you can take it with you while walking around, or use it your car with an external mag mount antenna, or at your house with a roof-mounted base station antenna.  Mobile / base station radios offer more output power, but aren't nearly as portable.  Generally, handheld radios sell for $150-300 and mobiles sell for $200-500 depending on the features and the frequency bands included.  You can assemble a complete station for much less than the cost of a typical computer system.


Twenty-seven small frequency bands scattered throughout the entire radio spectrum are allocated to this service internationally.  Some 1,300 digital, analog, pulse, and spread-spectrum emission types may be transmitted.  Millions of amateur operators in all areas of the world communicate with each other directly or through various relay (repeater) systems and amateur-satellites that are established by the amateur community.  They exchange messages by voice, teleprinting, telegraphy (Morse code), facsimile, and television.  All frequencies are shared.  No frequency is assigned for the exclusive use of any amateur station.  Station control operators must cooperate in selecting transmitting channels to make the most effective use of the frequencies.

Radio Equipment:

New hams usually start with a 2-meter hand-held transceiver or a mobile radio which costs anywhere from $100 to $300 ...even less if you buy a used one.  This VHF band allows you to chat with other amateurs through repeaters which -- by re-transmitting your signal using higher power and gain antennas installed at lofty sites -- greatly extend the communications range of low-powered transceivers   Multi-band transceivers which require separate antennas are more expensive.   Most ham operators purchase their transmitting/ receiving equipment from other operators ...or from commercial suppliers.  Licensed radio amateurs may design, construct, modify, and repair their own stations.  The FCC equipment authorization program does not generally apply to amateur station apparatus.

Amateur radio license testing is conducted under the supervision of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (VEC's).  Volunteer examiners (VEs) are Amateurs holding General, Advanced or Extra Class licenses who are approved by a VEC may prepare and administer amateur license examinations to applicants.  The examinations are given by teams of three qualified VEs who volunteer their time to help the amateur service grow.  There are about a dozen VEC's, but 90% of all ham radio testing is conducted by only two of them, the ARRL-VEC and our subsidiary, the W5YI-VEC.  Ham testing is widely available in all areas ...and in some foreign countries as well.

There is a small examination charge (currently $14.00) to be administered the examinations necessary to obtain any of the three ham radio licenses.   Both the ARRL and W5YI VECs have permanent paid staff and this fee goes to help cover the cost of administering and processing the paperwork and electronically filing the application with the FCC.

The VEs give examination credit (called a Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination or CSCE) for the license class currently held so that examinations already passed need not be repeated.  Examination credit conferred by the CSCE is valid for one year.  The VEs construct the written examinations from question pools that have been made public.  It is the responsibility of the VEC's Question Pool Committee (QPC) to develop and revise all of the question pools.  Each pool is revised on a three year cycle.