After taking your test to obtain the Technician Class Ham Radio license, it will take few days for your information to reach the FCC database, and for your callsign to be granted. You can check the status of this at the FCC Universal Licensing System Database. This is a newer feature that enables you to legally transmit quicker. When I got my first license in 1994, I had to wait for the paper license to arrive in the mail.
Before your callsign is granted, perhaps before you even take your exam, I would suggest picking up a radio. You will have to resist the urge to transmit while you aren’t licensed, but you can start listening to some of the local repeaters, clubs and other ham operators in your area. Search for some repeater frequencies on www.repeaterbook.com in your area. Look mostly at the 2-meter and 70-cm frequencies. I wrote a blog post here about which radios to start out with, but of course you can choose any that you want. Most people will start with an HT, because it is cheaper, but then will want to upgrade to a mobile unit very soon. If you have a long commute to and from work, save yourself some time and get a mobile unit.
Register your callsign with Echolink:
It takes a few days for this validation to approve.
Here is a link that explains Echolink. In short, it is an application that allows you to connect your Smartphone, Tablet or computer to Ham Repeaters that are Echolink enabled. This will allow you to talk on those repeaters from your Smartphone, so you don’t even need a radio. This is NOT a replacement for a radio, though; because not many repeaters have Echolink capabilities, and of course they are dependent on an internet connection to the repeater, and also one to your phone. But it is a fun tool to have at your disposal.
Register your callsign with DMR:
If you plan to use DMR at all, I suggest registering your callsign and obtaining a subscriber ID for your radio. This also takes a few days to validate. You will be assigned a new userID that is specific to your callsign and your DMR radios. If you never use it, that is fine, it doesn’t cost anything. But it will be there if you ever need it. DMR is growing very fast and adding new members and repeaters each week. There is a Worldwide DMR net that is held at 11AM CST on the WW Talkgroup on all DMR repeaters. You can listen to and speak with ham operators around the world.
Find a Local Club:
To help with your local needs, repeaters, antenna restrictions, and just overall Q&A, I suggest finding a local club. Don’t limit yourself to a club in your city – most cities will have a club, like the Hurst Amateur Radio Club, but some smaller cities may ban together for an “area” club. Visit a few of them, see how welcoming they are and how helpful they are when you ask questions. Also notice how active they are, this will give you a good resume of the club. I’ve seen clubs with lots of members who never talk on their repeater(s) and are never heard from except in the monthly meetings. I have also seen clubs with a very active repeater and just a small handful of members, but who are very well respected in the ham-community around them. Finding a club and getting involved is probably the most important step to using your ham privileges.
Register on QRZ.com
QRZ is a database for searching Ham Radio callsigns. Registration is actually done automatically on this website with your callsign, name and address, but you will still need to create an account to login and search for other callsigns. You can also setup a homepage of your own and share your email address at your discretion. They also have forums, reviews and classified pages. When you talk to someone over the air, sometimes you might wonder where they are – or someone might say “hey, send me an email, my address is on QRZ” so you will need updated information on this website to see information on other hams.
Do you like storm-watching? Find a Skywarn class near you and attend. They are usually free. Find a R.A.C.E.S or ARES sector in your area, and email or call them about membership and getting started. I live in Tarrant County and they have a R.A.C.E.S. page which has all the info I need –
Signup for the Red Cross
The Red Cross uses radio operators in times of emergency for communication. I recently signed up for this myself and I am looking forward to it. You must take a 2-3 hours orientation class (I took my online via a WebEx session) to join. Then you can sign up for various duties. I signed up for Radio Operator and I am awaiting more info. They were excited to learn that I already had an Amateur License.
GET A RADIO!
I stated this already, but most important of all, get something to transmit with! Most people start with a HT because they are cheaper, but they soon find the need to upgrade to a mobile unit or at least to some sort of external antenna, attached either to the car or to the house. Some people will talk on a 5-watt HT from their car or house on an external antenna, and that is fine to do, but Hams who are serious about the hobby will drop some money into a good mobile unit. Just like HTs, the prices on mobile units these days is MUCH better than it was when I first got licensed.