Amateur Radio (ham radio) is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics and communication together. People use ham radio to talk across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the Internet or cell phones. It’s fun, social, educational, and can be a lifeline during times of need.
Although Amateur Radio operators get involved for many reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology and operating principles, and pass an examination for the Industry Canada license to operate on radio frequencies known as the “Amateur Bands.” These bands are radio frequencies allocated by the Industry Canada (IC) for use by ham radio operators.
The amateur radio service (amateur service and amateur-satellite service) is established by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) through the International Telecommunication Regulations. National governments regulate technical and operational characteristics of transmissions and issue individual stations licenses with an identifying call sign. Prospective amateur operators are tested for their understanding of key concepts in electronics and the host government’s radio regulations. Radio amateurs use a variety of voice, text, image, and data communications modes and have access to frequency allocations throughout the RF spectrum to enable communication across a city, region, country, continent, the world, or even into space.
Amateur radio is officially represented and coordinated by the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU), which is organized in three regions and has as its members the national amateur radio societies which exist in most countries. According to an estimate made in 2011 by the American Radio Relay League, two million people throughout the world are regularly involved with amateur radio. About 830,000 amateur radio stations are located in IARU Region 2 (the Americas) followed by IARU Region 3 (South and East Asia and the Pacific Ocean) with about 750,000 stations. A significantly smaller number, about 400,000, are located in IARU Region 1 (Europe, Middle East, CIS, Africa).
The origins of amateur radio can be traced to the late 19th century, but amateur radio as practiced today began in the early 20th century. The First Annual Official Wireless Blue Book of the Wireless Association of America, produced in 1909, contains a list of amateur radio stations. This radio callbook lists wireless telegraph stations in Canada and the United States, including 89 amateur radio stations. As with radio in general, amateur radio was associated with various amateur experimenters and hobbyists. Amateur radio enthusiasts have significantly contributed to science, engineering, industry, and social services. Research by amateur operators has founded new industries, built economies, empowered nations, and saved lives in times of emergency. Ham radio can also be used in the classroom to teach English, map skills, geography, math, science, and computer skills.
The term “ham radio” was first a pejorative that mocked amateur radio operators with a 19th-century term for being bad at something, like “ham-fisted” or “ham actor”. It had already been used for bad wired telegraph operators.
Subsequently, the community adopted it as a welcome moniker, much like the “Know-Nothing Party”, or other groups and movements throughout history. Other, more entertaining explanations have grown up throughout the years, but they are apocryphal.
An amateur radio operator uses a call sign on the air to legally identify the operator and/or station. In some countries, the call sign assigned to the station must always be used, whereas in other countries, the call sign of either the operator or the station may be used. In certain jurisdictions, an operator may also select a “vanity” call sign although these must also conform to the issuing government’s allocation and structure used for Amateur Radio call signs. Some jurisdictions require a fee to obtain such a vanity call sign; in others, such as the UK, a fee is not required and the vanity call sign may be selected when the license is applied for.
Call sign structure as prescribed by the ITU consists of three parts which break down as follows, using the call sign ZS1NAT as an example:
- ZS – Shows the country from which the call sign originates and may also indicate the license class. (This call sign is licensed in South Africa.)
- 1 – Gives the subdivision of the country or territory indicated in the first part (this one refers to the Western Cape).
- NAT – The final part is unique to the holder of the license, identifying that station specifically.
Many countries do not follow the ITU convention for the numeral. In the United Kingdom the original calls G0xxx, G2xxx, G3xxx, G4xxx, were Full (A) License holders along with the last M0xxx full call signs issued by the City & Guilds examination authority in December 2003. Additional Full Licenses were originally granted to (B) Licensees with G1xxx, G6xxx, G7xxx, G8xxx and 1991 onward with M1xxx callsigns. The newer three-level Intermediate License holders are assigned 2E0xxx and 2E1xx, and the basic Foundation License holders are granted call signs M3xxx or M6xxx.
In Canada Call signs start with VA, VE, VY, VO, and CY. Call signs starting with ‘V’ end with a number after to indicate the political region; prefix CY indicates geographic islands. Prefix VA1 or VE1 is Nova Scotia, VA2 / VE2 is Quebec, VA3 / VE3 is Ontario, VA4 / VE4 is Manitoba, VA5 / VE5 is Saskatchewan, VA6 / VE6 is Alberta, VA7 / VE7 is British Columbia, VE8 is the Northwest Territories, VE9 is New Brunswick, VY0 is Nunavut, VY1 is the Yukon Territory, VY2 is Prince Edward Island, VO1 is Newfoundland, and VO2 is Labrador. CY is for amateurs operating from Stable and/or St. Paul’s Island, both of which require coast guard permission to get to. CY0 is Stable Island and CY9 is St. Paul’s Island. The last two or three letters of the callsigns are typically the operator’s choice (upon completing the licensing test, the ham writes three most-preferred options). Two letter callsign suffixes require a ham to have already been licensed for 5 years. Callsigns in Canada can be requested with a fee.
Radio Amateurs of Canada – RAC
Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC), is the national association for Amateur Radio in Canada. It is a not-for-profit membership association with headquarters in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, representing the interests of Amateur Radio all across Canada. Speaking on behalf of Canadian Radio Amateurs, RAC provides liaison with government agencies and carries the Amateur voice about regulatory and spectrum issues to the discussion table with government and industry leaders, nationally and internationally.
RAC is the Canadian voting member society of the International Amateur Radio Union. RAC also provides many services, publications and supplies to its members to enhance their enjoyment of Amateur Radio.