How do I become a radio amateur?
The best way to start is by listening to other amateurs on any of the amateur bands—frequencies reserved for use by radio amateurs. Try 3.5MHz upwards, or 7MHz upwards for starters. There are ways of doing this even if you have no receiving equipment—see below. Listen to whatís being said, listen to how itís done and imagine yourself in that place.
For a full list of amateur frequencies in the UK see Band Plans and Information.
If you like what you hear, and would like to become a member of of that community, then you can join the RSGB (Radio Society of Great Britain) as a listener, and receive the monthly magazine RadCom, which keeps you abreast of whatís happening in the world of amateur radio and is full of ideas, tips and useful information. You can then start thinking about getting a licence yourself. Itís easy, and you will find lots of other amateurs only too willing to help you on your way—thatís part of the ethos of being a radio amateur. You can find out more about getting a transmitting licence in the FAQs to follow or by visiting Training.
How do I listen in on the amateur frequencies?
You will need a receiver which will tune into them, and a suitable antenna, or aerial, which can be as simple as a long piece of wire. If you havenít got any equipment of your own you can listen to one of the internet software-defined radio (SDR) websites—like the RSGB WebSDR site—which allow you to listen to amateur radio frequencies over the internet.
The advantage of listening online is you donít need special equipment or have to put up aerials.
Another useful site is the wide-band SDR at the University of Twente which covers 0-30 Mhz in one band. This enables users to select any part of the shortwave band that they want to listen to.
Alternatively, you can go along to your local amateur radio club and ask to listen-in using their equipment. Club members are usually very helpful towards newcomers and can be a very useful source of information for the beginner; i.e. where to find second-hand equipment, which are the best ďrigsĒ to get hold of, how to build your own receiver, etc.
How do I contact my local club?
If you decide you want to become a radio amateur your local club should be your first port of call. Club meetings are usually held once or twice a month in the evenings. Clubs often provide talks on amateur radio, run training courses and have a club radio room, or ďshackĒ, where members can operate. Club talks are a very good source of information on what amateur radio is all about.
You will meet like-minded people who will help you learn the ropes. Your nearest club is also quite likely to be the place where you will need to go to take your first licence examination.
Use our UK Club Finder tool to help you find your nearest club.
What if I live miles away from the nearest club?
Donít despair, it is possible to learn from the very fine publications produced by the RSGB—a society which any one aspiring to become a radio amateur should join for the many benefits it provides the learner. Note that you donít need to be licensed to join the RSGB, in fact most Members first joined as listeners.
What is the Licence examination?
While any one can listen to the amateur bands, you need a licence to transmit on them. To obtain a licence you need to pass an exam; but do not panic, the entry level exam is really not that difficult.
Your first amateur radio licence will be the Foundation Licence, which has been purposely designed as an easy-to-achieve goal to help the newcomer get on the air quickly. Some 10 hours tuition is all that is normally required to prepare for the assessment and examination. If you have existing knowledge of radio or electronics, the preparation time is likely to be much less.
There is no requirement to attend any formal training but you do need to gain sufficient knowledge to pass the RSGB written examination. The Foundation exam has 26 multiple choice questions to be answered in 55 minutes, requiring at least 19 to be answered correctly.
The Foundation Radio Amateur Examination is part of a structured suite of three examinations recognised by Ofcom—the amateur radio license issuing authority—to give access to the amateur radio bands. All prospective radio amateurs must demonstrate a suitable level of competence and proficiency as a prerequisite to holding a licence.
The Foundation Licence is the entry level to amateur radio, intended to provide an exciting introduction to the hobby while requiring an acceptable minimum level of skill and experience.
The RSGB produces a very good booklet Foundation Licence Now! detailing all the information needed to take the Foundation Licence practical assessment and examination.
Note that, wherever you take the examination, a fee will be incurred, and some venues may charge a small fee to cover room hire, etc.
If youíre an Air Cadet preparing for your Communicatorís badge and have passed the ACO Equivalent examination, this will be accepted by Ofcom as the exact equivalent of the RSGB Foundation examination, and no fee is incurred.
There is no age limit for taking the examination, although candidates must be of an age where they are able to read and understand the training book, be able to recognise and use fractions and decimals, and be able to sit a formal examination.
What practical skills do I need?
The practical assessment is an integral part of the learning process and all exam candidates are required to pass the assessment before they are allowed to sit the written examination. The assessment is also excellent preparation for your life on the air. You will be expected to demonstrate the following skills:
  • Know how to connect together a typical amateur radio station—a radio, a power supply, some feeder and an antenna
  • Tune a transmitting antenna
  • Operate a receiver to listen to voice, Morse code and data signals, and use the common controls—for example, frequency, squelch, volume, etc.
  • Operate a transmitter to make voice contacts using common controls—for example, frequency, microphone gain, antenna tuner, etc.
  • Receive and send a very simple short message using Morse code; the Morse assessment is easily achieved and no knowledge of the code is required—a crib sheet showing the 26 letters of the alphabet and the 10 numerals is provided—and there is no speed requirement.
These simple and easy exercises will be carried out under the supervision of an RSGB-registered assessor, who will sign off your record of achievement as proof of your competence in readiness for the examination. Again, your local club should be able to help you here.
When do I get my examination results?
Your practical amateur radio skills are assessed before taking the written examination; and your completed written paper will be marked on the spot wherever you take it. You will know very soon after handing it in whether you are likely to have achieved a pass or not, although you will have to wait—usually 10 working days—for official confirmation of this from the RSGB Examination Department.
How do I apply for a licence?
When you pass your exam you get a candidate number, which is recorded on your pass certificate. You need this number to apply for your licence. To apply go to Ofcom Online Licensing Services and create a user account. Login to your new account and follow the Apply for a Licence link.
Alternatively, you can download Ofcom form OF346 (11-page/466KB PDF) to apply for an Amateur Radio licence. Note that applying for a licence online is free but if you send in a paper application a processing fee will be incurred.
If you applied online you can print your licence and start using your Foundation call sign straight away. If you sent in a paper application, you will need to wait until your licence is delivered through the mail.
What Next?
Once you have your Foundation station up and running you should start thinking about the next steps. There is no compulsion to upgrade your licence to the next level, but you will gain more knowledge and skill in training for the Intermediate licence. You will enjoy additional privileges, including higher power limits, more frequencies, and you will be permitted to build your own transmitting equipment.