Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, is a hobby enjoyed by several hundred thousand people in the United States and by over a million people worldwide. Amateur radio operators call themselves "radio hams" or simply "hams."
To become a radio ham, you must pass a test and become licensed from the Federal Communications Commission here in the United States or your countries Telecommunications Bureau. Wireless amateur communication is accomplished on numerous bands extending from 1.8 Meghertz upwards through several hundred Gigahertz. There are several license classes. The more privileges a class of license offers, the more difficult is the examination that one must pass to obtain it. Here in the United States, we have three classes of License. Technician, the entry level license, the General class, and the Extra Class.
Amateur radio operation is fun, and that is one of the main reasons hams do it. But ham radio can provide communication during states of emergency. Ham radio works when all other services fail. After Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the utility grid was destroyed over hundreds of square miles. All cellular towers and antennas were blown down. Only amateur radio, the Citizens Radio Service ("Citizens Band"), and a few isolated pay phones with underground lines provided communication between the outside world and the public in the affected area.
Amateur radio operators are known as technical innovators, and have been responsible for important discoveries. For example, in the early part of the 20th century, government officials believed that all the frequencies having wavelengths shorter than 200 meters (1.5 MHz) were useless for radio communications, so they restricted radio amateurs to these frequencies. It was not long before ham radio operators discovered the truth, and were communicating on a worldwide scale using low-power transmitters. Thus the shortwave radio era began.
Getting licensed is a simple matter of studying for the test and local a local Volunteer Examination group that administers tests on a regular basis. In the United States, testing is coordinated through the following Volunteer Examination Coordinators:
Find an affiliated radio club in your area and join the club. If you already know of someone who is licensed, they can point you in the right direction. Otherwise, you can locate affiliated clubs at the ARRL Website for Find a Club.