How to become a Radio Ham

Years ago, anyone interested in becoming a radio amateur was required to take complex tests involving electronics theory, radio construction and in most cases, learn Morse code.

Things have changed here in the UK, making it considerably easier for newcomers to get into the hobby. You can now get started with an entry-level Foundation Licence in a few weeks, or with an intensive weekend course. On this page, we explain more about getting on-air with a ham radio Foundation Licence:

The Foundation Licence?

Foundation Licence Manual BookThe Foundation Licence is an introductory licence to encourage new amateur radio operators to get a taste of the hobby, and to get on-air. As a Foundation licence holder, you’ll have access at low power to a range of different frequencies, but you can gain more power and privileges as you progress to the Intermediate and Full licences.

Getting a Foundation Licence will allow you to transmit on the VHF / UHF and HF bands up to a power of up to 10 watts, which with a modest aerial and radio will be enough to get you into much of Europe and beyond.

The Foundation Licence Manual book is an essential part of the UK Foundation Licence. It’s a 42-page A4 book that explains all of the basics, contains handy bits of information for the newbie amateur, and tells you what you need to know to pass the exam. At the time of writing, it’s under £5 at Amazon on paper and on Kindle: Paper version and Kindle version. (More: Amateur Radio Books)

We also offer an online training course for those planning to take up the hobby who are studying towards their Foundation exam – See: Essex Ham’s Foundation Online course

The following video gives you an overview of what’s involved in getting your Foundation licence:

How to get started in amateur radio

Here is a video explaining a little more about the hobby, and how to get started by getting a Foundation licence:


Foundation: Practical

All Foundation licence holders are required to demonstrate that they can connect and use an amateur radio transmitter and antenna. The practical assessments have to be completed in front of a Registered Assessor – Normally, a local amateur radio club can help with practical sessions.

The tutors hand-hold you through the process and assess you as the course progresses. The practical part of the course helps you to understand what to do when you get your licence, and how to get on-air safely. Practicals include:

  • Basic radio operation – Tuning in, changing frequency and transmitting
  • Connecting a radio, antenna and power supply
  • A short transmission on a VHF/UHF amateur band
  • A short transmission on an HF amateur band
  • Adjusting a dipole antenna
  • Sending and receiving a short phrase in Morse code (you don’t need to learn Morse)

More: See our Amateur Radio Foundation Practicals videos

Foundation: Exam

After completing the practical part of the course, you’re required to sit a 26-question multiple choice exam. The questions are in the following categories:

  • Amateur Radio and Licence Rules – 6 questions
  • Technical Basics – 4 questions
  • Transmitters & Receivers – 3 questions
  • Feeders and Antennas – 3 questions
  • Signal Propagation – 2 questions
  • EMC (avoidance of interference) – 3 questions
  • Operating Practices – 3 questions
  • Safety – 2 questions

You have 60 minutes to answer the 26 questions, and if you’ve paid attention during the course, and studied the book, then the exam should present no problems at all. To pass, you’ll need to get 19 of the 26 questions correct. For more, see Getting Started: Foundation Exam.

Amateur Radio Foundation Training Course

Foundation Licence & Callsign

RCF Foundation Pass Certificate 2013

Your exam paper is normally marked as soon as the exam is finished, so you’ll get an idea of whether you’ve passed “while you wait”. Assuming you pass, you’ll be sent a Pass certificate by post from the  RSGB (Radio Society of Great Britain).

Your details will be passed on to the UK regulator,  Ofcom, and you’ll be able to apply for your licence and callsign.

For details of how to do this, see: How to apply for your amateur radio licence

Your Foundation callsign will begin with “M7” followed by three letters, and you can pick those three letters yourself (if the callsign you’re after hasn’t been taken)

Once you have your callsign and your licence, you’re able to start transmitting on HF (long distance) and VHF/UHF (shorter distances), and you can start to see where the hobby takes you.


Next Steps?

Hopefully, this page has given you a feel for the process and how to get started. If you are keen to get on and get your licence, it’s a case of studying for the exam. You can learn from reading the book or taking online courses, but many prefer to learn with a local amateur radio club. A good number of amateur radio clubs offer training courses, which include the practical sessions.

If you’re in Essex, see our “Training in Essex” page for details of local training courses, otherwise, put your address into the RSGB Club Finder to find your nearest club.

You may also want to join our free online Foundation course to help you study.


Training Courses in Essex

The best way to learn the basics and take the exam, is to go on a local course.

hamtrain-smallIn Essex, there are training courses in Danbury, Thundersley, Harlow, Epping, Colchester, Hornchurch, Grays and Canvey Island. You can also study online with Essex Ham, via our Foundation Online Course.

For a full list of local amateur radio courses, see our Amateur Radio Training In Essex section.

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