What is Amateur Radio?

Amateur Radio, also known as “ham radio“, allows enthusiasts to communicate with other amateurs around the world, and experiment with all aspects of radio. If you have an interest in anything to do with radio, communication or electronics, then amateur radio could be the hobby for you.

Video: Amateur Radio in 2 Minutes


Why would I want to become a ham?

Essex Ham's Kelly M6KFA

If you’ve ever been interested in, or dabbled with, radio or electronics, it’s worth considering becoming a radio amateur to learn more about technology and radio. If any of the following apply to you, you might be interested in finding out more:

  • Interested in electronics or gadgets?
  • Into shortwave radio listening?
  • Want to understand how radio works?
  • Used a CB radio, and looking to explore other areas of the radio spectrum?
  • Played with a walkie-talkie as a kid, and want to know more?
  • Looking for a diverse technical hobby?
  • Keen to further your knowledge and technical understanding?


What you can do:

There are so many directions that the hobby can take you in – here are just a few examples:

  • Making that first contactChat to local ham from your home and whilst ‘mobile’
  • Talk to other hams in the UK, Europe and around the world
  • Connect your radio to the Internet using technologies such as EchoLink (think ‘Skype for Amateurs’) and various digital text & picture messaging modes
  • Experiment with radio – Investigate different aerial types, radios and transmission modes. Some amateurs are even bouncing signals off the moon
  • Take part in contests – See how far you can get, and how many contacts you can make
  • Support events in the community and help out in emergencies
  • Learn and operate Morse code (known as CW), and communicate around the world (Morse is optional)
  • Special events – Amateurs are often out-and-about spreading the word (see our Essex Amateur Radio Events page)
  • Try contacting the International Space Station – Many astronauts are licensed amateurs and are occasionally available for a contact as they fly over

More than any of these though – amateur radio is about making friends. It’s a community, and amateur radio operators are keen to share their knowledge and help others, through the shared language of radio.

How do I get started?

You have to get a licence to operate amateur radio equipment and to transmit on the amateur radio frequencies, but that’s not a big deal. There are many amateur radio clubs that can teach you the basics, and help you to take the first steps. The following video clip gives you an overview of how to get started in the hobby:

Video: How To Get Started


Beginners to the hobby can take a short ‘Foundation’ training course. You have a choice of online courses, or classroom-based classes with a local club. At the end of the course, is a multiple-choice exam, and assuming you pass, you can be on-air in a matter of days. We offer a FREE online course to help you get started!

Update: Study and pass online

As of 2021, it’s now possible to study online for free, and take your exam online – no need to complete any practical assessments, or visit an approved exam venue. To enrol, visit Foundation Online Registration. If you prefer classroom-based teaching, many local clubs offer training courses and exams.

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