With the aviation frequencies we use for air-to-air communication (123.3MHz and 123.5MHz) becoming more crowded, a growing number of sailplane and hang glider pilots are turning to Amateur (or HAM) Radio for more spectrum.

Today I attended what can only be described as a one day crash course constructed for the sole purpose of passing the FCC's test for an Amateur Radio License.

The class, which cost $25, was sponsored by the College of San Mateo Electronics Technology Department and the South County Amateur Radio Emergency Services.

The test consists of 35 randomly selected questions from a bank of a few hundred. Like all tests issues by federal government agencies, the questions and answers are known and published in advance. They're even available on-line.

The Strategy

The cramming (err, I mean "study") process is fairly straightforward. The "rules" are as follows:

  • the test questions are printed on 60 pages
  • study a set of 10 pages worth of questions for 45 minutes
  • read the question and the correct answer only
  • do not think or try to reason out the right answer, just read
  • take a 15 minute break after each session
  • after 6 sessions (and a mid-day lunch) take the test

Using that method, I took the 35 question multiple choice test and scored correctly 33 of 35 questions (94%). You can miss as many as 9 and still pass (70% is the minimum passing score).

The system works. You don't learn a lot doing it, though I did pick up more than a few facts along the way. But for my purposes, this gets me a license. And now I can legally operate my new Vertex VXA-700 Transceiver.

Oh, I suspect that all of the 30-40 people at today's class passed.

I'll likely attend a "HAM Orientation" class at some point, which covers the basics of radio protocol, terminology, and so on.

Posted by jzawodn at January 29, 2005 08:43 PM

Reader Comments
# Max Clark said:

Ever since my little brother got his license I have been working on mine. Only problem is after 3+ years I still have not been able to sit still long enough to do it. Maybe now that I am taking flying lessons I will get off my butt and put a use to the Kenwood set that I bought years ago.

on January 29, 2005 10:19 PM
# Allen Hutchison said:

Congratulations on getting your HAM license. I originally got mine in a very similar way, but it's sparked a long interest in radio. See you on the air, KB9RDI.

on January 29, 2005 10:45 PM
# Jeffrey L. Taylor said:

Funny. I started on my lifelong journey into electronics, computers, and programming as a ham, WB6UGA (probably belongs to someone else now). But I just did not spend time on the air after getting my first computers ('76-'77). Anyway, have fun.

on January 30, 2005 08:39 AM
# Adam Vandenberg said:

A HAM license doesn't require a Morse code test anymore?

on January 30, 2005 12:40 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Not for the Technician Class license, no.

on January 30, 2005 12:50 PM
# incognito said:

CQ CQ CQ KC9EQI calling

Welcome to the great world of ham radio. A great hobby that can chew up more money. This reminds me it is time to renew my mine.

What freq are you using for sail planes now? Is this simplex or are you setting up repeaters at the airport now?

on January 30, 2005 02:39 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

We're on the 2 meter band and primarily doing simplex. We've generally got line of sight above 10,000 feet or so for many, many miles.

However, if you land out in the desert, having a repeater handy would be nice.

on January 30, 2005 02:51 PM
# Todd Huss said:

I took the same style class in Redwood city for both my technician and the written portion of the general. With the morse code portion for the general there's obviously no way around but to really learn it. I really got to enjoy the benefit when sailing from California to Hawaii. I could either buy an expensive sat phone which runs a buck plus per minute or do a phone patch via the HAM radio for free (due to the generosity of the volunteers in the Pacific Seafarers Net). To top it off with the free/volunteer service of Winlink you can be in the middle of the pacific and send and receive email!

on January 30, 2005 03:36 PM
# Rick Amendola said:

You are going to be another no code tech and Ham radio is going to go to hell in hand basket just ask any old Ham

on January 30, 2005 06:34 PM
# jim mcmurry said:

Great job !


on January 30, 2005 10:13 PM
# Pat Mullen said:

Programs like the one you attended are part of an effort to train an increased number of emergency communications operators. The Federal Government wants to strengthen its volunteer base for homeland defense programs, and people who hold amateur radio licenses generally develop skills that help improve the technology and infrastructure required for this endeavor.

Morse code is a no-brainer. The code requirement to upgrade your license is five words a minute, which is very s-l-o-w. Years ago I talked to a lady who was paralysed and had to send dits and dahs by holding a pencil in her teeth and tapping out short messages on a computer keyboard. She had somehow configured one of the keys on the keyboard to function as a morse code key and was using a computer (an IBM 286 I believe) to send CW on her transmitter. Our conversation was on the 10-meter single side-band voice band, but she claimed that she could work CW using this technique.

Simply stated, knowing how to send and receive code is not something many of us would use on a daily basis, but it comes in quite handy when you have to use it.

Overall, about one-quarter percent of all Americans hold a ham ticket; congratulations on getting yours.


Patrick Mullen, KB6OXX/XE2

on January 31, 2005 01:50 AM
# Eduardo Alonso EA3GHS said:


Amateur Radio is a wonderful hobby !!
Please take a minute and see how people
makes QSO at very low bit rate (as
one bit every 30 seconds) !!

73 and DX from Spain
EA3GHS (at) lleida (dot) com

on January 31, 2005 06:40 AM
# Mike said:

Welcome to the world of ham radio Jeremy. Lots of fun to be had, maybe this will spark more interest in radio!


on January 31, 2005 07:59 AM
# david KC2JNS said:

Congrats! I crammed and passed my test two years ago after about 25 years of planning to someday get around to doing it. Getting ride of the CW requirement was what finally did it for me. It's a great hobby and you can meet some great people.


on January 31, 2005 07:27 PM
# jasun said:

I got my license when I was 16, but I'm in the UK so it'll be a bit different.

All you need is to do some reading and learn about electronics and radio to pass the exam.

on February 1, 2005 11:11 AM
# Steve said:

Welcome to the ham bands. I'm KF6ANW (Tech), but am just a little ways away from getting my General ticket. The theory's easy, especially after being something of a physicist in college, but getting quick enough to figure out DN vs BT vs SK and all those other obnoxious procedurals takes a bit of time. :)


on February 19, 2005 02:49 PM
# Jon K said:

I wish they would lift the Morse regquirement for a general liscense. It does nothing but help to make the hoppy obsolete. Fewer and fewer people are getting their ham liscenses and more and more operators are dying from old age! They need to remove the morse requirement in an effort to get more young people to to try the hobby lest we lose the spectrum to commercial cellular or data providers.

my .2 cents.

on March 14, 2005 09:59 AM
# jill said:

so what happeens if you use a ham without a license

on July 15, 2005 07:05 AM
# Mal Smiley said:

The files are not print friendly in that the margining and returns make the document immense if printed. I have edited in MS Word reducing the number of pages and increasing readablility. Can attach hereto, however if you email me I will the Word file to my reply and you can add to your site.
Malcolm Smiley
On to the test

on January 8, 2006 03:57 PM
# Steve said:

My wife and I just passed our exam, using your advice. We're part of the reponse team for this year's Gulf hurricaine season. Thanks for your help. 13AG06

on August 13, 2006 07:32 PM
# Nelson Blaha said:

I don't get it. I just had a look at the handheld you bought, and the specs show it transmitting between 118.000 - 136.975 MHz. The 2-meter ham band is 144-148 Mhz I thought. Did you modify your radio or something? I'm puzzled.

on January 22, 2007 09:33 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

No, that radio actually has 2 meter capabilities built in.

on January 22, 2007 10:36 AM
# Nelson Blaha said:

aha... I see it now. The link you provided went to the 710, and you bought the 700. Mystery solved.

on January 22, 2007 12:02 PM
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