Triad Public Safety
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Amateur Radio FAQ's
          Our members frequently encounter fellow public safety employees that have an intense interest in the radio communications that are in use both by their agencies, as well as by amateur radio operators. In many cases, these individuals have no idea where to start the process of becoming an amateur radio operator.

The simple fact is... It's Easy!

This section of the Triad Public Safety Radio Group web site is intended to dispell some of the myths about amateur radio, as well as to provide useful information for the prospective new amateur radio operator.

Question: What is Amateur Radio?
Answer: Amateur Radio (also called ham radio) is the use of designated radio frequency spectrum for purposes of private recreation, non-commercial communication, wireless experimentation, self-training, and emergency communication. The term "amateur" is used to specify persons interested in radio technogoly solely with a personal agenda, and to differentiate it from commercial broadcasting, public safety communications (such as police and fire) or business two-way radio communications.
Question: What can Amateur Radio do for me?
Answer: Amateur Radio, like any other hobby, is a way to expand your knowledge and make new friends. One of the most unique aspects of amateur radio is the ability to speak with people around your local area, your state, your country, and all around the world. I was recently witness to to a conversation between one amateur radio operator sitting in his vehicle in the parking lot of Starbucks, and another amateur radio operator in Italy. Both were talking wirelessly without the assistance of a telephone or the internet. Amateur Radio operators and clubs maintain radio repeaters all across the country that enable conversations to take place over large geographical areas with the use of handheld radios. Through conversations over the radio, friendships often quickly develop when people discover that they have multiple interests in common.
Question: How can Amateur Radio help me as a Public Safety Professional?
Answer: To expand on the previous FAQ topic, as a public safety professional, participation in the amateur radio community has several distinct advantages. The friendships that you build through amateur radio, especially those friendships you build with other public safety professionals, can prove to be invaluable in times of emergency. As a law enforcement officer, I have often encountered situations where my friendships with personnel from other agencies that I met through amateur radio have come in handy. Had I not had a friend and contact in that agency, the job at hand would have been much more difficult. The advantages of amateur radio for public safety professionals is covered in more detail on our Amateur Radio for the Public Safety Professional page.
Question: You have my interest, but where do I start?
Answer: Becoming an amateur radio operator is easy, and it has recently become even easier due to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) dropping the morse code requirement. New amateur radio operators are required to pass a 35-question test to obtain their entry-level "Technician" license. The test topics range from FCC regulations to radio etiquette to electronic circuits. All of the test questions are contained in a "question pool" that is available from various sources. Many new amateur radio operators purchase study guide books to study prior to taking their test. Another (cheaper) option is to study the pool questions on one of the various amateur radio test study internet sites, such as those at Eham.net or QRZ.com. Individuals that already have a basic understanding of radio communications can often vastly increase their knowledge of amateur radio by simply taking the practice exams repeatedly. When you are ready to take the test and get your license, local amateur radio clubs often hold "VE Sessions" (Volunteer Examiner) during local hamfests (organized swap meets) where testing takes place.
Question: How much does Amateur Radio cost?
Answer: Amateur Radio, like any other hobby, can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. The cost to take the exam for your amateur radio license is typically $10-15 at a hamfest. Recent advancements in technology have made dual-band (VHF/UHF) amateur radios available for as little as $50. On the other end of the spectrum, many amateur radio operators (especially those involved in public safety) use the same type of commercial radio equipment that they use at work. Used commercial radio equipment is often available at prices far below those that an agency would pay to buy it new, but still more than the average new amateur radio.
Question: Can I use my personal public safety radio for amateur radio?
Answer: Sure. Most modern commercial radios that operate in the VHF (136-174mhz) and UHF (400-520mhz) bands cover the amateur radio frequency ranges of 144-148mhz and 420-450mhz. Many public safety professionals that own their own personal commercial public safety radio have programmed them with amateur radio frequencies as well. Radios being used on amateur frequencies do NOT need to be type-certified by the FCC.
Question: Can I use my personal amateur radio for public safety?
Answer: In most cases, NO. Radios operating on public safety (Part 90) frequencies are required to be type-accepted for Part 90 use. The vast majority of amateur radios are NOT type-accepted for Part 90 use. Most modern amateur radios are equipped with extended receive in the usual public safety frequency ranges, and some can be modified to "open them up", or transmit outside of the amateur frequency ranges. These modifications are commonly known as "MARS/CAP Mods", which are meant to increase the frequency ranges of the radios slightly for use by Civil Air Patrol and Military Amateur Radio Service. Many a volunteer firefighter has used their modified amateur radio for public safety purposes and then been subsequently fined by the FCC. The benefits do not outweigh the risks here.
Question: If I need help, who can I turn to?
Answer: One of the greatest aspects of the amateur radio hobby is that regardless of what skill level or background an amateur radio operator comes from, there is always someone who is willing to help. It has been often said that the only "Stupid Question" is the one that is not asked. This is especially true for a hobby such as amateur radio, where there are such a wide range of skills to learn. The Triad Public Safety Radio Group strives to help new amateur radio operators advance their knowledge in the hobby. While we do not require our members to be amateur radio operators, we do strongly encourage it and will provide whatever help is needed to help that member achieve their goals. The PSRG Forums are an excellent place for prospective new amateur radio operators to ask any questions or voice any concerns that they may have about the hobby.

Welcome to Amateur Radio!!