University of Massachusetts Amateur Radio Club - FAQ

This document describes how to become a ham or amateur radio operator at The University of Massachusetts. It also has answers to some common questions about amateur radio and the UMASS Amateur Radio Club. This FAQ is maintained by Ethan Handwerker - N1SOH (

1.What is Amateur Radio?
Amateur Radio is a non-commercial radio communication service whose primary aims are public service, technical training and experimentation, and communication between private persons. Amateur Radio operators are commonly called hams. Hams often communicate with each other recreationally but also provide communications for others at public events or in times of emergency or disaster. New FCC rules allow persons to obtain amateur radio licenses without learning Morse code! If you have had a basic Physics or Electronics class, you may already know enough theory to pass the tests. If you haven't had this kind of class, the material is extremely easy to learn on your own.

2.What is UMARC?
UMARC is the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) Amateur Radio Club. This organization is composed of students, faculty, staff, and local residents of the surrounding community. UMARC operates a radio shack for members to use while they are away from home. The club meets formally twice a month, and conducts other activities such as dinners, field day, contests, and public service communication events.

3.How can I join UMARC?
Membership in UMARC is open to anyone interested in Amateur Radio at the University of Massachusetts and all those within the 5-college system. Voting members must be current undergraduates at UMASS who have paid their student activities fee.

4.Who can become a ham?
In the USA, anyone who is not a representative of a foreign government can be an Amateur Radio operator. You do not have to be a citizen to obtain a license. There are tests that you must pass to get a license, however, the tests are not insurmountable. On that general level, the requirements are probably similar in almost every country.

5.How much does it cost to join the hobby?
To take the tests for any class of amateur radio license, there is a small charge (around $6 currently) to cover copying costs and running the testing sessions. (Due to changes in 1993, Novice tests are under same procedures as the others.) The cost of a radio is really dependent on what you want to do. You can make your own radio and antenna for under $150. You can buy a used single-band radio for $150-$300. Or you can buy a new multi-band multi- mode radio with all the doodads for $300-$3000. I'd suggest you learn more about ham radio, talk to local hams, find out what you want to do with ham radio first. At UMASS, the Amateur Radio Club is currently lobbying the Student Government Association for Funds to build an Amateur Radio Installation.

6.Where can I take the tests?
The Novice tests used to be given by any two qualified hams of General class license or above. Now all the license tests are given by three qualified Volunteer Examiners (VEs) who volunteer their time.

7.Where can I find out more information about the club?
The club currently maintains a mailing list for club announcements and general discussion. You can join the mailing list by sending e-mail to
The club maintains a World Wide Web site at
The clubs meetings are usually held in Gunness Student Center of the Marcus Engineering Building. Announcements of dates and times may be found in the Daily Collegian, on WMUA radio (91.1 FM), or on our webpage.

8.What can I do with a ham radio license?
There are so many things, it's a difficult question to answer, but here's some ideas:
* Talk to people in foreign countries either by ionospheric propagation or via amateur satellites.
* Talk to people (both local and far away) on your drive to work.
* Help in emergencies by providing communications.
* Provide communications in parades or walkathons.
* Help other people become hams.
* Hook your computer to your radio and communicate by computers.
* Collect QSL cards (cards from other hams) from all over the United States and foreign countries and receive awards.
* Participate in contests or Field Day events.
* Provide radio services to your local Civil Defense organization thru ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) or RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service).
* Aid members of the US military by joining MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System).
* Participate in transmitter hunt games and maybe build your own direction-finding equipment.
* Have someone to talk to on those sleepless nights at home.
* Receive weather pictures via satellites.
* Build radios, antennas, learn some electronics and radio theory.
* Send and receive live television pictures.

9.What can't I do with an Amateur Radio license?
The most important thing you can't do is transact business of any kind over ham radio (under new FCC rules, some types of personal business transactions are now allowed, however, there are still major limitations). Interference to other hams or services, as well as obscene, profane or indecent language is not tolerated and is illegal. Music and broadcasting are not allowed on ham radio.
Some personal conversations may not be appropriate to Amateur Radio. Do you really want the whole world to hear about Aunt Mabel's arthritis?

10.What are the different US amateur classes and what can each of them do?

Novice - has CW (Morse code) privileges on 4 HF bands (80, 40, 15, and 10 meter), Voice privileges on 10 meters, and privileges on 2 VHF/UHF bands (220 MHz and 1290 MHz). Required are 5 wpm Morse code test and 30-question Novice test.

Technician - has full privileges on all VHF/UHF bands above 30 MHz. Required are Novice test and 25-question Tech test. Technician may access Novice HF bands by passing the 5 wpm Morse code test.

General - has all Technician privileges, plus larger access to more HF bands, including CW and Voice on 160, 80, 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12, and 10 meter bands. A General class amateur can give Novice tests. Required are 13 wpm Morse code test, Novice, Tech and 25-question General test.

Advanced - has all General privileges, plus wider band access on 80, 40, 20, and 15 meter bands. An Advanced class amateur can also become a VE and give tests to Novice and Tech tests. Required are 13 wpm Morse code test, Novice, Tech, General and 50-question Advanced test. The Advanced test is the most difficult of the five written tests.

Amateur Extra - has full privileges on all amateur bands. An Extra can become a VE and give all amateur tests.
Required are 20 wpm Morse code test, Novice, Tech, General, Advanced and 40-question Extra test.