I am an amateur radio operator, with an Amateur Extra class license. NH6PY is the call sign assigned by the Federal Communications Commission to my amateur radio station license, for purposes of station identification.
The call sign does convey some meaning:
(To find out who holds other American callsigns, try the callsign lookup server at QRZ.)
I am a member of the Emergency Amateur Radio Club and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (see the page for my activities and interests if you're interested in details, including my tips for disaster response volunteers). My main area of interest is public service communications.
Amateur radio is an international hobby that exists for personal communication, experimentation, and public service. Amateur radio is also known as ham radio, and amateur radio operators are known as hams. Nobody knows for sure where the term came from, and I've heard several theories. There is widespread agreement, though, that it should be treated as a word and not an acronym, i.e. ham, not HAM. To become a ham, you must pass one or more written examinations (covering radio theory, operating practices, and rules) to earn a license. This license confers both an operator's permit of a particular class, and a station license authorizing the operation of a radio transmitter. Although the call sign is, strictly speaking, assigned to the station and not the operator, hams often use it personally, i.e. "Hi, I'm Ralph, NH6PY."
Amateur radio is sometimes referred to as the Amateur Radio Service, because the FCC uses the word "service" to refer to the various types of radio communication activities it regulates.
It does take some work to earn a ham license, but once you do, you do have quite a bit of latitude in your activities as a ham. While there are federally-enforced rules that govern amateur radio, you can communicate with any ham anywhere in the world (or even in space), talk about almost anything, transmit different types of signals (voice, data, video, etc.), and even build your own radio transmitter. One of the things you can't do is be paid for your services as a ham radio operator.
How did I become a ham? I'd been interested in electronics for many years, and an interest in emergency preparedness and response contributed to an interest in radio communications. I had also been unenthusiastically involved in CB (citizens band) radio since becoming a civil defense volunteer in 1985. In 1988, I decided to take the licensing examination for the intellectual challenge, without any intention of becoming an active operator. I studied licensing guidebooks and Morse code record albums that I borrowed from the public library, spending practically no money in the process. I passed a Morse code test and two written exams, which qualified me for the Technician class license (later reclassified to Technician Plus after the Morse code exam requirement was dropped for the Technician to create an alternate entry-level license in 1991). Although I didn't intend to become an active ham when I took the exam, after listening to other hams on my scanner, particularly during the nightly net of the Emergency Amateur Radio Club, I ended up buying a hand-held radio and got on the air. In 2000, I upgraded my license to Amateur Extra class.
I currently have equipment for the 2 meter (144-148 MHz) VHF and 70 cm (420-450 MHz) UHF bands, and have dabbled in packet radio (computer data transmitted via radio). Hams have numerous bands of frequencies throughout the radio spectrum in which to operate. Radio signals at these different frequencies have different characteristics, making them suitable for different types of communication. The 2 meter and 70 cm bands are popular for local communications, because effective communication is possible with small, portable radio equipment; because widely available repeater stations can extend the range of communications over a large area; and because signals at these frequencies don't normally go much farther than the horizon, so they don't cause interference to local communications in other areas. Radio signals at lower frequencies can travel beyond the horizon, making them suitable for long distance (called "DX") contacts.
Want to know more about amateur radio? Check out the web site of the American Radio Relay League, of which I am a life member.
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