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Amateur Radio License Challenge

For this challenge, I’m forgoing the usual accuracy or fitness-based rules in favor of getting your “study” on. I’ve touched on amateur radio in the past, and specifically said that the time to start learning and gaining at least basic proficiency is well before you actually have a serious need.

Radio, like many other skills, doesn’t just happen because you want it to. As I’ve been learning, even if only casually, since getting my license in 2019, there’s a lot that goes into it. A lot of us who have served in the military and been handed a radio that was pre-configured for us don’t realize all the science and engineering that goes into the type, shape, and size of the antenna, tuning, and propagation patterns.

We just expected it to work.

As this challenge goes up, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 panic and shut down, so it’s a bit more difficult to find range time (or ammo), and get to a gym for a solid workout. So why not pivot towards academics and study?

Why Learn Amateur Radio?

I already wrote a pretty detailed article on this topic, but let’s hit some key points. Firstly, if the virus panic has taught us anything, it’s that our entire commercial and economic systems are based on a highly-efficient-but-fragile “just in time” infrastructure. Disruption at any point along the supply chain can be catastrophic.

Communications are no exception. We’ve seen over and over again what happens when cell towers get overwhelmed, internet routers and data centers crash, or what can be done with various jamming technologies. 

Being proficient in radio communications helps free you from those limitations. It permits you a pathway to keep communication lines open for everything from voice to email (when you really know what you’re doing). And you can get that signal out as far as you need to do so.

That’s valuable.

The Amateur Radio License Challenge

As always, our challenges come with a set of rules that require proof. With the radio challenge, that’s going to be pretty simple. There are three levels of amateur radio license:

  • Technician
  • General
  • Extra

Each level grants you access to more frequencies and capabilities. The lowest level, technician, is mainly line-of-sight communications but with more powerful transmitters. 

General gets you access to more high frequency (HF) bands and permits worldwide communication by bouncing off of the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. 

An Extra license gains you even more, and it’s usually reserved for the super nerds (sometimes called “Elmers”) of the amateur radio world. 

Earning each level only requires that you pass a written test. The ARRL, who creates the tests draws from a publicly available question bank. There are a lot of great tools out there for studying, and my suggestion is, along with their companion application.

Each of the ARRL license levels corresponds to the three levels of this particular Marksman Challenge. Level 1 is Technician, Level 2 is General, and Level 3 is Extra.

Providing Proof

To successfully complete the challenge, you must provide proof in the form of your FCC-assigned callsign. Callgisns appear in a publicly-accessible database that lists the level for easy verification. Fair warning, as I’ve said before, the database also includes a the mailing address you used to register- so consider a PO Box if you don’t already have one.

I suggest posting your callsign for credit within the Amateur Radio Squad of The Marksman’s Quarter since we already have a running thread for sharing callsigns. While you’re there, join up with your local HAMR team to link up with other amateur radio operators in your area.

If, for privacy reasons, you don’t want to share your callsign, then you can send a message to me privately either within The Quarter or on the site’s contact page.

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Bradford Ayers
Bradford Ayers

Matt, my wife and I were just talking about our kids getting landlines again based on all that’s happening. But of course, even landlines could fail too. So I mentioned looking into getting our ham radio license. Our kids live up to an hour drive away. Does the Technician level allow for communication like that? Also what sort of equipment is needed to be able communicate around our area? I remember my grandfather had a telescoping antenna and could speak to people around the world. But it was a full-blown hobby for him. We’re just thinking what would be the minimum we would need to keep in touch with family.

Denny Yunk

I had hoped to get my Technician license this year, but due to COVID-19, there are currently no exams planned in my area. I’m watching the ARRL website in the hopes that they might introduce online testing. Not holding my breath, though.

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