Be a Ham Radio Operator: Education and Career Roadmap

Ham radio operators are amateur radio operators who may serve as backup communications personnel in times of an emergency. For those interested in radio communications, learning how to operate a ham radio can begin as a hobby and eventually grow into a career. View article »

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  • 0:03 Become a Ham Radio Operator
  • 0:19 Career Requirements
  • 0:43 Step 1: The Licensing Exam
  • 1:19 Step 2: Become Licensed
  • 2:02 Step 3: Gain Practical…

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Video Transcript

Become a Ham Radio Operator

Ham radio operators are amateur radio operators that run an informal and unofficial radio station for fun. Due to the nature of the work, ham radio operators can work anywhere, such as at home or at an office.

Career Requirements

Education Level No formal education required
Licensure A license is required to operate a radio station; 3 distinct levels of licensure exist for radio operators
Salary (2016)* $34,073 (median annual salary for all radio operators)

Sources: *, The Federal Communications Commission,

Step 1: The Licensing Exam

There are no requirements following high school to become a radio operator, and most skills are learned through practical radio operations. The Federal Communications Commission (known as the FCC) requires hams to be licensed prior to going on the air. In order to prepare for the licensure exams, prospective hams may take a ham radio licensing class in his or her area. Local ham radio clubs may have classes, mentors, or fellow enthusiasts with whom to study. Additionally, books, software, and other self-study materials may be available to help prepare for the exams.

Step 2: Become Licensed

There are three levels of licensure for amateur radio operators. The introductory license is the Technician Class, which allows for the use of all ham radio bands over 30 MHz. Applicants must pass a written test that covers basic operations to earn this first-level license. The second level is the General Class license, which increases privileges to include communications across the country and internationally. Both of these exams contain 35 questions. Finally, the Extra Class license allows individuals to operate at all ham radio frequencies. To earn the highest license, candidates must pass a 50-question test that covers more advanced theory, rules, and design.

Step 3: Gain Practical Experience

To increase the chances of getting a job at a radio station, police department, or other facility, there are many volunteer opportunities available that offer experience in this field. The Amateur Radio Relay League, the largest national amateur radio association, seeks a variety of volunteers to fill positions such as emergency coordinator, official observer, and government liaison. These professionals perform a variety of functions, from ensuring that amateur operators abide by regulations to setting up communications plans during emergencies.

Working as a ham radio operator does not require a formal education past high school and may start out as a hobby or with volunteer work, but individuals will need to earn one of the three available levels of licensure. In order to work as a radio operator who receives and transmits information through the use of radio equipment, one must continue to advance his or her knowledge and abilities with radio production and operation.

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