Highfields Amateur Radio Club
Beginners Pages.

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What is Amateur Radio?

By Brian MW0GKX.

Amateur radio is a hobby for everyone interested in communicating.

When the hobby began 100 years ago the only form of communication radio amateurs (they were then known as amateur wireless experimenters) was Morse code, the same method used by the telegraph operators. This form of communication still in use today - and has become an international language, enabling people who can't speak the same language, to communicate using 3 letter 'Q' codes.

Up until the 1920's wireless telegraphy was the only way to transmit and receive information on the airwaves, but radio amateurs pioneered voice communications in the mid-1920s at the time when radio broadcast stations began. Although the transmission and reception techniques have changed over the years with technical developments, voice communication remains the major method of communicating on the amateur bands.

Amateur Radio operators come from all walks of life -- movie stars, missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, truck drivers and just plain folks. They are all ages, sexes, income levels, abilities and nationalities. They all have one common interest in radio.

Amateur radio is responsible for putting hundreds of thousands of people all over the world into direct contact with each other every day. There are over two million licenced radio amateurs spread across virtually every country. Age, profession, nationality, political and ethnic barriers are non-existent, thus promoting international friendship and understanding. Amateur radio can be enjoyed by young and old, male and female and even the most severely disabled can make friends around the world from their own home. Contacts may be made using speech or Morse code, between computers and even by television. Radio amateurs have built satellites for their own use.

Radio amateurs are permitted to use a wide range of frequencies and types of transmission, so they must be qualified operators. Training is offered at many clubs.

What Can I Do?

Amateur radio can be enjoyed in many different ways some of which are:

Voice Contact

Using a microphone linked to a transmitter/receiver.

Morse Code or CW Contact

Using a series of dots and dashes transmission can reach further distances than speech (although nowadays new digital modes such as PSK31 and PACTOR are more efficient than Morse Code but nothing can beat CW for simplicity). It is also an international 'language' allowing contacts all over the world.

RTTY and HF Digital Modes

Using an old teleprinter or modern PCs, radio amateurs can communicate with each other by typing away at their keyboards. This way they can have contacts (called QSOs) using Radio Teletype (RTTY) or the newest mode PSK31. With other error correcting digital modes (AMTOR, PACTOR, GTOR or CLOVER) and using a special modem and their computers, they can exchange data files, mail or even access other radio amateur Local Area Networks in other countries.

Packet Radio

Many amateurs link their home computers with their radios using a special modem (TNC) and contact stations both either locally or worldwide in real time, or exchange e-mail or look at the bulletin boards. This is the only mode so far that enables amateur computers to form a Local Area Network and allows many to share a radio channel at the same time.


Live television transmissions can be sent and received by slow-scan (worldwide) or fast-scan (locally) using a conventional video recorder, video camera or computer graphics.

Satellite Communications

International contacts are possible by using satellites orbiting the earth as repeaters of the radio amateur signals. Radio amateurs take an active part in designing and building satellites for their own use.

Earth-Moon-Earth Communications

Similar to above enabling radio amateurs to bounce signals off the moon from continent to continent, this is a very much more demanding and precise operation.


An amateur radio trip. This can be anywhere - from the North Pole to remote unheard of islands, to your foreign holiday, or to remote uncharted jungles.

For more information on amateur radio, see RSGB or contact any of the committee members in the main site area.

Interested? Then you need the next page Getting started.

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