HAM License Types

Welcome to the world of HAM

If you are thinking about Amateur Radio (Ham Radio) then you probably already know that a license is required by the FCC to operate on the Amateur Radio Bands. Licenses are not difficult to get but some study and a test is required. On this page we will discuss the different types of FCC licenses and in other pages within this topic, we will talk about how to go about getting licenses.

Let's talk about the different licenses

Amateur Radio Operators are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Operators, commonly called HAMs have three levels of licensing that are available. Each requires a testing process and an application to the FCC for licenses. Each license if granted, is good for 10 years. You will be assigned a Call Sign (Call). You may change this if a Call you want is available. Soon the FCC will begin charging a fee for these "Vanity" calls. Most HAMs will change their call over the years. There are rules as to what license class can have which type of call. That information is readily available on the Internet. Finally, each license class will be granted distinctive bandwidth availability and privileges to use the frequencies within these bands. Care must be taken to stay within your granted frequency ranges. The FCC listens!

License Classes

The Technician License is the very first level and allows full use of the VHF and UHF bands (local conversations), and as well as the 6-meter band and a small portion of the 10 meter band. You will better understand these bands as you begin your study process for taking the tests. But for now, know that these bands are mostly limited to local conversations - up to about 80 miles with the proper radio equipment and antennas.

The General License opens up the Amateur Radio bands to the HF (High Frequency) bands. These are the bands where an operator is able to talk longer distances - across the country and in some cases to other countries. The General Class License does not provide access to all bands but is provides significantly operating space than the Technical License. In this study, you will learn more about what makes talking longer distances possible, about propagation, sun spots, the ionosphere and the impact on radio waves. This is the most common level that most HAMS think they want to aspire to. Like the Technician Class, this license requires a different study guide, materials and testing. There are manuals available and on-line study (recommended) available.

Finally, the Extra Class license is the last step in your journey. At one time there were other license levels and required Morse Code capabilities. Today, there is no Morse Code requirement in any of the three license classes. The Extra Class License study tends to focus more on Antennas, Propagation, Electronics, Electricity and Safety. RF (Radio Frequency) can be dangerous and this course of study better prepares the HAM for how to avoid harm as he/she uses RF, builds antennas, works on his own equipment, etc. This license class opens all Amateur Radio frequencies to the Amateur Radio operator. All bands, all modes and all varieties of radio are available to this class license holder.

Study Materials

Manuals You can find ARRL manuals on the ARRL web site or on Amazon. Just search for the license class that you are interested in. You will need to study the questions and answers in the question pool for your level of license interest. It can be obtained from a number of places. The most direct route is on the NCVEC website here. The question pool is in the back of the The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual. The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual is available from the ARRL . It may be available from Amazon.com or possibly Barnes and Noble Booksellers. Manuals have different expiration dates depending upon the license level. The manual is not only a study guide with the complete FCC Exam Question Pool questions and answers, but it also is a good reference guide after you receive your license.

You can find the ARRL VEC test sites at Find an Amateur Radio License Exam in Your Area on the ARRL website here.

On-Line Study Sites This is a pretty broad topic and there are lots of available on-line sites that offer study courses - some for free and some that are paid.

Free Sites - Most of the free sites focus on a familiarization technique that ask questions over and over from the FCC License question pool for that particular license class in hopes that as you see the questions more often, you will become familiar with the correct answers. See our References page for some suggestions here.

Paid Sites - These sites step it up a notch. They keep track with questions that you get right and those that you miss and while they also tend to focus on familiarization, they explain the answers to you and rotate the missed questions more frequently. No need to study what you already know! Testing is a big part of these paid services. You can test on areas where you are weak for more practice or you can open the tests up to random questions form the question pool. See our References page for some suggestions here.

NOTE: As an operator that has been successful in all three-license class examinations, I used the paid on-line services. The fees are not all that expensive $24-$35 at the time of this writing. Price depends upon the license level. But for me, I found it well worth the money. You can find some of these suggested sites on our References page Click Here

License Testing

The Olive Branch Amateur Radio Club offers testing each month prior to our normal monthly meetings. Anyone can sign up and attend a testing session. We do ask that you contact our Testing Coordinator by email by clicking here.

Due to the restrictions imposed during Covid-19 we have not always been able to hold regular face-to-face meetings. We hope to resume this soon. Please contact us if you are ready to test and we will try our best to accommodate you in this difficult environment.