Some portions of this FAQ were derived and adapted from the rec.radio.amateur.misc FAQ.

What is amateur radio?

There are over two million active amateur radio operators around the world today, and chances are that you have one in your neighborhood! Amateur radio operators come from all walks of life — mechanics, doctors, students, celebrities, service professionals, electronic engineers — people just like you and me. Amateur radio operators — sometimes called “hams” — are hobbyists that enjoy using amateur radio for experimentation, communication, recreation, and emergency communication. Hams can be all ages, sexes, income levels and nationalities.

Amateur radio is truly a multi-faceted hobby. Some operators participate in fast-paced contests and receive awards for the stations and countries they have contacted. Others prefer to have long conversations with other operators they just met on the air. You can pound the brass and communicate using the time-tested technology of Morse code, or you can communicate using bleeding-edge digital communications. You can even build your own radios — this hobby is what you make of it! Click here to see a short video on amateur radio.

In the United States, amateur radio currently has three license classes. You can read more about each of the license classes here.

Many prospective amateur radio operators — or newly-minted hams — get involved by first joining their local amateur radio club. The DMRAA can provide information on licensing, operating practices, and technical information. The DMRAA typically holds monthly meetings on the fourth Tuesday of each month.

How do I become a member of the DMRAA?

Click here to download the membership form. Fill out all information and attach the appropriate dues (note: the first year of membership is free for new hams). Please write your check out to Des Moines Radio Amateurs’ Association. You can mail the form and dues to: Des Moines Radio Amateurs’ Association, PO Box 88, Des Moines, Iowa 50301-0088, or you can drop the form and dues off at the next general meeting. Please, no cash via mail. If mailing by snail mail, please be advised that you will not receive a receipt unless requested.

Online DMRAA membership renewal is now available, click here to renew your membership online!

When are your meetings?

Our meetings are typically held every fourth Tuesday of each month, located
at the Fort Des Moines Museum and Education Center. The presentation begins at 7 p.m. and lasts for approximately an hour.

Our meeting date, time, and location can change depending on any special events, so it is a good idea to check the DMRAA’s home page for the most up-to-date information.

Do I have to be licensed to attend a DMRAA meeting?

Certainly not! Everyone is welcome. If you’re not already licensed, attending a DMRAA meeting is an excellent way to see what amateur radio is all about and connect with other amateur radio operators to answer your questions. Following the meeting, feel free to stay and ask club members any questions you want — we’d be happy to help!

When are the testing sessions to become licensed? Where do I go?

You can view a list of upcoming testing sessions by visiting the ARRL website here. There are several locations around the state that offer testing year-round. Be observant of any fees, required documentation, handicapped accessibility, and registration needs (some locations do not allow walk-ins) as each location may have different guidelines.

Is Morse code proficiency still required?

No! The requirement for radio amateurs to be able to pass a Morse code proficiency was dropped by the Federal Communications Commission in 2007. Today, only simple knowledge and understanding of amateur radio revolving around technical proficiency and rules and regulations are necessary.

Does the DMRAA offer licensing classes?

The DMRAA does offer seasonal classes for the technician (entry-level) amateur radio license through local community education programs. For more information, search our website for any recent class news or contact us if you need assistance finding information.

Are there websites I can use to study online?

Yes, there are several websites that use questions from the actual technician, general, and extra question pools that you can use to study online. Such sites include AA9PW, HamExam, and QRZ.com. Keep studying and practice the exams until you feel confident to take the real exam.

What do each of the US amateur license levels mean?

Technician: Hams enter the hobby as Technicians by passing a 35-question multiple-choice examination. No Morse code test is required. The exam covers basic regulations, operating practices, and electronics theory, with a focus on VHF and UHF applications. Technician Class operators are authorized to use all amateur VHF and UHF frequencies (all frequencies above 50 MHz) and are entitled to limited power outputs on certain HF frequencies.

General: The General Class is a giant step up in operating privileges. The high-power HF privileges granted to General licensees allow for cross-country and worldwide communication. Some people prefer to earn the General Class license as their first ticket, so they may operate on HF right away. Technicians may upgrade to General Class by passing a 35-question multiple-choice examination. The written exam covers intermediate regulations, operating practices, and electronics theory, with a focus on HF applications. In addition to the Technician privileges, General Class operators are authorized to operate on any frequency in the 160, 30, 17, 12, and 10 meter bands. They may also use significant segments of the 80, 40, 20, and 15 meter bands.

Extra: The HF bands can be awfully crowded, particularly at the top of the solar cycle. Once one earns HF privileges, one may quickly yearn for more room. The Extra Class license is the answer. General licensees may upgrade to Extra Class by passing a 50-question multiple-choice examination. No Morse code test is required. In addition to some of the more obscure regulations, the test covers specialized operating practices, advanced electronics theory, and radio equipment design. Frankly, the test is very difficult, but others have passed it, and you can too. Extra Class licensees are authorized to operate on all frequencies allocated to the Amateur Service.

What can I do with an amateur radio license?

There are so many things, it’s a difficult question to answer, but here’s some ideas:

  • Talk to people in foreign countries either by ionospheric propagation or via amateur satellites.
  • Talk to people (both local and far away) on your drive to work.
  • Help in emergencies by providing communications, such as with the Polk County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES).
  • Provide communications in parades or walkathons.
  • Help other people become hams.
  • Hook your computer to your radio and communicate by computers.
  • Collect QSL cards (cards from other hams) from all over the United States and foreign countries and receive awards.
  • Participate in contests or Field Day events.
  • Aid members of the US military by joining MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System).
  • Participate in transmitter hunt games and maybe build your own direction-finding equipment.
  • Have someone to talk to on those sleepless nights at home.
  • Receive weather pictures via satellites.
  • Build radios, antennas, learn some electronics and radio theory.
  • Send and receive live television pictures.

What are some repeaters in the area?

We have compiled a list of central Iowa repeaters DMRAA Freq Guide April 2022

What are some weekly VHF nets in the area?

We have compiled a list of central Iowa VHF nets here.

I have an idea for a meeting presentation.

We’re always looking for presentation ideas. If you have a topic you would like to present (or have an idea for a topic), use the contact form to submit your idea and we’ll get back in touch with you.

I have an article/photos or idea I’d like to submit for publication in the Static Sheet.

Great! We love to publish content from our members in the club newsletter. Use the contact form to submit your story or to get more information.

How do I become an officer or board member of the DMRAA?

We are glad that you are interested in serving as a DMRAA officer or board member! Serving the club in that capacity is a very rewarding and enriching experience. Elections are held each year at our May general meeting. If you are interested in being a candidate, please express interest by the fourth Tuesday in April by using the contact form on this website with a message declaring your candidacy and which position you are interested in. Your information will be passed on to the nomination committee for your name to be added to the ballot for voting at the May general meeting.

How do I contact the DMRAA?

Please visit the contact page for contact information.

Estate sales/My late family member left some equipment, what do I do?

We understand that losing a loved one can be a difficult time for their family. Oftentimes, spouses or family members that are amateur radio operators leave behind some radio equipment, leaving the family to sort it out and sell it.

If you have an inventory list made of the items that need to be sold, we can include the inventory list in our bi-monthly newsletter, the Static Sheet, free of charge. The Static Sheet is published in February, April, June, August, October, and December. Please contact us with your list and contact information. Photos of the items are encouraged, but not required.

If you are interested in donating equipment to the club, rest assured that the Des Moines Radio Amateurs’ Association is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, meaning that donations are tax-deductible. Donations may not be accepted at certain times during the year, due to limited storage space. Please contact us for information.

My late family member included a donation to the DMRAA in his/her will.

We are truly honored that your loved one wished to contribute to the DMRAA post-humously to help carry on the traditions of amateur radio to the next generation. Rest assured that the Des Moines Radio Amateurs’ Association is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, meaning that donations are tax-deductible. Please contact us to facilitate the contribution.

Where did the term “ham” come from?

According to the Amateur Radio Relay League’s booklet What is Ham Radio?, the  definition of the word “ham” was first given in G.M. Dodge’s “The Telegraph Instructor” even before there was radio. Then, as now, the definition has meant “a poor operator; a ‘plug.'” The definition has never changed in wire telegraphy.

The first wireless operators were landline telegraphers who left their offices to go to sea or to man the coastal stations. They brought with them their language and much of the tradition of their older profession. In those early days, every station occupied the same wavelength — or, more accurately perhaps, every station occupied the whole spectrum with its broad spark signal. Government stations, ships, coastal stations and the increasingly numerous amateur operators all competed for time and signal supremacy in each other’s receivers.

Many of the amateur stations were very powerful. Two amateurs, working each other across town, could effectively jam all the other operations in the area. Frustrated commercial operators would refer to the ham radio interference by calling them “hams.” Amateurs, possibly unfamiliar with the real meaning of the term, picked it up and applied it to themselves in true “Yankee Doodle” fashion and wore it with pride. As the years advanced, the original meaning has completely disappeared.