Today, the concept of “radio” is quite familiar to us, and we pretty much take it for granted. But when Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first trans-Atlantic radio signal back in 1901 it was a very big deal. Amateur Radio, often called Ham Radio, has been around since 1908.
Amateur (or ham) radio, specifically, is defined as follows, with key terms being “non-commercial” and “without pecuniary interest”:
“. . . the use of radio frequency spectrum for purposes of non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, private recreation, radiosport, contesting, and emergency communication. The term “amateur” is used to specify “a duly authorised person interested in radioelectric practice with a purely personal aim and without pecuniary interest;” (either direct monetary or other similar reward) and to differentiate it from commercial broadcasting, public safety (such as police and fire), or professional two-way radio services (such as maritime, aviation, taxis, etc.).”
Globally, radio communications are governed by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), and within each of the 340 participating countries are governed by agencies designated by that government. In the U.S., the governing body is the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).
Operations, rules and regulations, standards, etc. vary somewhat by country and have evolved over time. In the U.S., rules governing ham radio operation are delineated in “Part 97” of the FCC regulations.
Since licenses are granted under varying regulations by country, they are officially only valid within the issuing country. However, “reciprocal agreements” between countries allow hams to operate their radios in that country, outside of their licensing country. The U.S. has reciprocal agreements with many countries.
♦ FUN FACT: Why are Amateur Radio operators called Hams? No one really knows for sure. One theory is that HAM was the call sign of the very first amateur wireless station operated by three amateurs of the Harvard Radio Club whose last names began with the letters “HAM.” Another theory is that professional telegraph operators, with their “delicate” refined touch when tapping out Morse Code denigrated the early radio operators as having a “heavy hand”—being “ham-fisted.” Evidence seems to indicate the first theory is accurate. ♦