Beginners guide to amateur radio

Elecraft KX3When my interest in amateur radio was reinvigorated last year, the first question i had was how do i go about getting started?

My interest in amateur radio started as a child by listening to Short wave radio and straying into the amateur bands on single side band (SSB). At that point i didn’t have the money to obtain the amateur radio license, let alone the equipment required, also the Morse code requirement was a significant barrier.

So coming back to the hobby at the age of 29 with some time and a bit more money i was able to revisit this interest and get licensed. I found information a little hard to come by about how to get going, which is why i’m writing this. I hope this helps you on your way!

UK Licensing Structure

In the UK there is a relatively new three tiered licensing structure for radio amateurs. Here’s a quick overview of the tiers and the benefits:

  • Foundation License
    • 10 watt power limit
    • Access to a significant portion of amateur radio bands across the radio spectrum (see table below)
  • Intermediate License
    • 50 watt power
    • Access to all amateur radio bands
    • Design and construct own transmitting equipment
    • Unattended beacon operation
  • Advanced License
    • Full transmitting power 400 watt power
    • Operate in foreign countries
    • Considered the “Full license”

The foundation license allows you to get started and get on the air quickly, albeit with limited power.

Foundation Frequencies

Here are the frequencies you get access to once you pass your foundation exam:

Bands in
Status of Allocations in the United Kingdom to the Amateur Service
Mode of Transmission
Secondary. Available on the basis of non-interference to other services (inside or outside the United Kingdom).
1W (0dBW) erp


Primary. Available on the basis of non-interference to other services (outside the United Kingdom)

Power fed to the Antenna 10W (10dBW)




Available on the basis of non-interference to other services (inside or outside the United Kingdom)


Primary. Shared with other services












Primary. Available on the basis of non-interference to other services (outside the United Kingdom)


Secondary. Available on the basis of
non-interference to other services
(inside or outside the United Kingdom)






10W (10dBW) erp


Seondary. Not available for use within a 100km radius of Charing Cross, London



10W (10dBW)



Source: Ofcom Foundation License Terms Booklet

Books to read

Foundation License Now! CoverI found the following books to be of great help in learning more about amateur radio:


Find a course/exam

Find a courseThere are plenty of amateur radio clubs that run foundation license courses in the UK. Your first port of call should be the RSGB’s Clubs and Training page. This will point you in the right direction to your nearest club.

Email them, visit their website and see what they offer. Even if they don’t offer training they will also have a good idea of who does near by, so get in touch!

I personally found i had to wait a while before a local course was available, they can also be oversubscribed so it pays to register your interest sooner rather than later.


Listen to the amateur bands

Listen to the bandsOne of the best ways to learn more about amateur radio and operating is to listen, listen and listen some more! You can learn a lot about the practical side of operating this way and it will help you greatly once you have your license and want to start operating.

The HF bands offer a rich hunting ground for listeners, try the following frequencies good for voice (SSB) communications:

  • 7.000 MHz
  • 14.000 MHz 




No Morse? No problem!

Morse Code Straight KeyIf you have looked into getting an amateur radio license in the past you may have been put off by having to pass a Morse code test. You’ll be relieved to know that you no longer need to pass this test to get your license. It’s not even required at the intermediate and advanced levels.

The reason for lifting this requirement is that the other military services we traditionally shared the HF bands with, no longer use Morse code and so we don’t need to know it to vacate a frequency as they now have other ways of communicating this.

Foundation Course – What’s involved?

The foundation course i took was a relatively straight forward and enjoyable weekend course which finished up with all the students sitting the exam (read more: Getting my Foundation Amateur Radio License).

The course is an enjoyable mix of practical exercises and formal examination. Here’s the practical exercises we needed to complete:

  • Transmitting on HF and VHF
  • Sending and receiving Morse code
  • Tuning a dipole antenna for different frequencies
  • Connecting radio equipment

The exam is multiple choice and if you have read the Foundation License book and listened to the instructor you should find it easy enough.

Pass the exam

Once you’ve passed the foundation exam and have your license you gain very generous access to a wide range of LF/HF/VHF/UHF bands, albeit with limited power. Don’t be disheartened by the low power limitation, with a well configured antenna and the right conditions, you can make contacts around the world on HF. Data modes such as PSK31 will get you longer distance contacts than voice will at the same power level. Also being limited to 10w will reduce the chance of you having RFI issues.

Visit your local amateur radio club and get talking to other enthusiasts, they should prove to be very supportive and will help you with getting a station set up.

In short in i think the entry bar is low considering the fun you can have as an M6 licensee. So what are you waiting for?

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