What do you do?
We have a well-equipped amateur radio station in Cambridge for the benefit of our members. We arrange occasional lectures on radio related topics. We make contact with people all over the world (our members regularly make contact with Australia, New Zealand and islands in the south Pacific). Some members of the Society also regularly travel to remote countries, islands or mountains to make radio contacts.
For fun, and for the pleasure of getting good at it! Even with the communication methods available in the modern world, there’s still something quite magical about the feeling of speaking to somebody who’s on the other side of the globe by radio, without the help of anything man-made in the middle. How about going somewhere off the beaten track, setting up some equipment and hearing a pile-up of people all wanting to make contact with you because you’re somewhere that’s rarely on the air? Or how about building your own equipment, and doing all the above with something that started out as a few components? Internationally, there are many millions of other radio amateurs who share our enthusiasm for communication.
How much time will this take?
There’s no regular commitment required. However, as with any hobby, what you get out of it will depend upon what you put in. Getting a basic licence won’t take very long at all (probably not more than an evening’s worth of time). Getting fully licensed will take a bit longer, depending upon what you know already. Aside from that, it’s up to you how much time you spend actually doing it.
Tell me more about licensing.
It’s probably not a huge surprise that being allowed to make signals that can be detected on the other side of the world is subject to testing to make sure you’re reasonably competent – or at least know when to stop! Most radio transmissions in the UK require a licence, and the few that do not tend to be short range and much more limited in scope than what we do.
In the UK, there are three classes of amateur radio licence: Foundation, Intermediate, and Full. They differ in the freedoms they grant (e.g. the maximum output power you’re allowed and whether you can build your own equipment).
Each licence class depends upon the last being completed. For each licence class, there is a multiple choice exam, and for the Foundation and Intermediate licences, there are also some simple practical exercises to complete.
The Foundation licence should be quite straightforward for any undergraduate. Schoolchildren regularly become Foundation licensees. The Full licence will almost certainly require some study, and some of the physics is not covered in A-level syllabuses.
From 2023 there should be a single “Direct to Full” exam as well as the three individual exams.
We provide training and tuition for all classes of licence, free of charge (except for the exam fee).
Once you’ve passed an exam, that’s it: the licences last for life.
How much will this cost?
When in Cambridge, you can use the equipment at the club’s radio shack, meaning you don’t have to buy your own, and you don’t have to find somewhere to put the antenna! In addition, the Cambridgeshire Repeater Group has a scheme to loan handheld radios to Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin students for use with the local voice repeaters. This means that you don’t have to buy your own equipment.
So, to answer the question:
- To see what we get up to and have a play costs nothing.
- To have a go for a while to see whether you want to take it further: £32.50 (£22.50 for the Foundation licence exam and £10 for a year’s membership of the Society).
- To take it further: the additional exams also have associated fees, which would be payable when you want to take the exams. Once you’ve paid for two years’ membership of the society, this can be compounded to life membership.
If you already have a licence, then of course you can deduct the licence exam fees from any amounts.
It’s worth noting that there’s no up front charge at any point for anything except the next thing you want to do, so you’re not going to be drastically out of pocket if you decide you don’t want to take it any further. Of course if you walk away with an exam pass, then you will have that to show for your time.
Obviously, if you come with us to some interesting part of the world, then that’s going to have separate costs associated with it!
How can I find out more?
Some less frequently asked questions.
Is there a morse test to become licensed?
No. In the past there was a morse test to ensure that radio amateurs could understand communications from other radio spectrum users in morse. There aren’t many such users left, so the test is no longer. You will, however, find that many radio amateurs still use morse (amongst other modes of communication), partly because it’s easier to build your own equipment to use morse, partly because it’s easier to pick out weak morse signals from a noisy background than it is to pick out weak voice signals, and partly because it’s a good way of communicating with people all over the world who don’t necessarily speak English. If you want to learn morse, we’ll help, but you don’t need to learn morse to become licensed.
How does amateur radio differ from CB (citizens’ band)?
Citizen’s Band is an unlicensed, voice-only system designed for short range communication. It is limited to 4 watts of power over FM, and only in one small part of the spectrum at 27MHz.
For comparison, qualified amateur radio users in the UK are permitted to use up to 400 watts over a very wide range of frequencies throughout the radio spectrum. Radio amateurs have the freedom to any mode (not just FM). Long-distance communication between computers over radio is commonplace, and morse code is still very popular, for example.
Compared to CB, amateur radio has a more technically proficient and vibrant user base. Radio amateurs enjoy excellent international relations and are often at the forefront of innovation in communications technology, continually seeking to make challenging long distance contacts – even bouncing signals off the moon!