Amateur Radio

South Mount Beacon SOTA W2/EH-003 by WB2FUV

Amateur radio is a popular technical hobby and volunteer public service that uses designated radio frequencies for non-commercial exchange of messages. Amateur radio operators (“hams”) must pass an examination to be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Each amateur radio operator is assigned a unique alpha-numeric identifier known as their callsign (example: WB2FUV). Their federal license allows amateurs to operate their radios anywhere in the country.

The earliest “hams” followed in the footsteps of Marconi and operated spark-gap transmitters to send Morse code messages across neighborhoods or between continents. Today the amateur radio community has more than 700,000 licensed members in the United States with a total of 3 million worldwide. They use many different modes of communications on a wide range of radio frequencies; including morse code, voice and data. In addition to the traditional shortwave radio frequencies (2-30 MHz), “hams” also utilize VHF, UHF, microwaves, moon-bounce and satellite communications. In fact, there is a ham radio station on board the International Space Station (ISS) for use by astronauts to communicate with school groups and other hams on Earth. More information about amateur radio is available from the American Radio Relay League at

Mobile and portable “ham” radio operating

WB2FUV portable operation at Hunter Mountain W2/GC-002 in Catskill State Park NY

In addition to home stations, many amateurs also operate mobile or portable radios from remote locations. These activities were originally intended to practice the rapid deployment of radio communications equipment in remote environments as a test of amateur radio emergency preparedness.

WB2FUV sending Morse code to a distant station using a QRP 5-watt SW-3B battery-powered transceiver

As the size and weight of shortwave radio equipment decreased over the years, it has encouraged more use of portable transceivers outdoors on a recreational basis. Some of these radios are handheld “walkie-talkie” VHF or UHF radios intended for local communications. Other radios are compact, battery-powered HF shortwave transceivers with simple antennas which are capable of cross-country or intercontinental communications ! Some hams also use small VHF radios with handheld yagi directional antennas aimed at the sky to contact the amateur satellite network (AMSAT) or the International Space Station. Most recently, hams are using portable notepad computers linked to their radios for data communications from the field.

Refer to a recent article in Outside magazine entitled “Inside the Summit-Obsessed World of Ham Radio” for a description of ham radio operators who participate in SOTA (Summits-on-the-Air).