In the UK and many other countries, there is a system of short-range radio communications known as "Citizens' Band" or CB. Operation does not require a licence and the radio may be used for personal or business use. However, because of the type of transmission and the maximum transmitter power allowed, CB is usually a local phenomenon.
In contrast, amateur radio has access to a number of different bands and types of operation and - at the highest licence level - is allowed to use a lot more power. To earn these privileges, it is necessary to pass an examination to prove your technical knowledge and understanding of the regulations. This is no different to taking the driving test or getting a pilot's licence - you could be in a situation where you can cause a lot of trouble to other people so you need to understand what you are doing.
Since 2008, the radio amateur's licence comes in three levels - the following is a brief description of the licences.
The first level is the Foundation licence, which has a practical element, and can be considered as an operator's licence. When you have passed the Foundation licence examination and got your licence, you will be allowed to operate transmitters with up to 10 Watts of power.
The next level up is the Intermediate licence. The emphasis of the theoretical side is on the technical aspects of radio - how transmitters and receivers work - and again there is a practical element. Passing the Intermediate licence examination allows you to use up to 50 Watts.
The third level is the Full licence. The training course goes into a lot more technical detail of how transmitters and receivers work but this time there is no practical element involved. Once you have passed this examination, you will be allowed to use the maximum power of 400 Watts.
There used to be a requirement to take an additional test to prove your ability to read and send Morse at a minimum speed but this has now been abolished.
What does it cost?
HADARS provides free training to club members but there is a fee charged by the Radio Communications Foundation to take each of the examinations.
Since June 2011, the examination fees have been:
Foundation exam £27-50
Intermediate exam £32-50
Advanced exam £37-50
There is no charge for the licence provided you apply via the Internet and confirm your details every five years.
Whilst we would encourage everyone to progress to at least the Intermediate level and thus gain a technical insight into how radio works, not everyone wants to progress beyond the Foundation licence.
There are many people who don't see the need to use a lot of power and get their enjoyment from developing their expertise with low-powered operations and making efficient aerials. They find that their operating skills don't restrict them from achieving what they want to do. Even using only 10 Watts it is possible to take part in world-wide contacts.
Contact us via G2UG@hadars.org.uk to get more information or come to one of our meetings and talk to us. There is further information about becoming a radio amateur on the website of the Radio Society of great Britain.
The Halifax & District Amateur Radio Society run demonstration stations at various times of the year which gives members of the public an opportunity to see amateur radio at work. If you see us out and about, please stop for a chat.