What is Amateur Radio?

Let the Isle of Wight Radio Society help you find out.


Amateur Radio has its roots in the very invention of radio. Marconi was driven by curiosity and experimentation, and undeterred by those who knew better, went on to “invent” radio. His legacy lives on in Ofcom’s definition of Amateur Radio “…..as both a hobby and a service that uses various types of radio equipment, allowing communication with other radio amateurs for the purpose of self-training, recreation and public service.”

Ofcom is the UK Government Agency that manages all forms of communications in the UK, including Amateur Radio. Essentially, any means of radio communication in the UK must be licenced; however some forms become license exempt such as mobile phones and CB.

Amateur Radio differs from CB Radio, whose Ofcom equivalent definition states “….is a short range service for both hobby and business use. It is designed to be used without the need for technical qualifications.”

There is one other licence free radio service commonly referred to as Walkie Talkie radio that Ofcom considers is for short range business and personal use.

It can be seen from the Ofcom definitions that Amateur Radio can provide world-wide communications and the contract is that Radio Amateurs (Radio Hams) must achieve technical and operational competencies before being


licensed to operate. It is this Ofcom licence that bestows the Call Sign – every Radio Amateur around the world has their own unique Call Sign – it is their badge of honour.

In the UK, the Amateur Radio community is represented by the Radio Society of Great Britain, or RSGB.


More about Amateur Radio

The necessary competencies are achieved through training courses organised by various Amateur Radio Clubs. There are three grades; foundation, intermediate and advanced – each with its own exam and each with its own set of operational privileges regarding equipment and power.

Radio waves are part of the overall electro-magnetic spectrum and Amateur Radio is granted access to various frequency bands from the very low up into the microwave region. These allocated bands are coordinated around the world enabling Amateurs in different countries and continents to communicate in their own protected spectrum space. Each band has its own characteristics that can be exploited by the experienced Amateur.

The diagram to the right is a notional pie-chart that illustrates the various uses and interests within the hobby. Frequency runs anti-clockwise from the top.

At either end of the complete spectrum are the specialist experimental bands. Being at the very low and very high frequencies there is little known about how radio signals behave and correspondingly, there is no commercial equipment available. The spirit of Marconi lives on!

The VHF/UHF bands support UK and continental coverage and portable operation is common with the use of hand-held kit. A number of particular interest activities exist in these bands that include:-

  1. Amateur television using slow scan, analogue and digital technologies.
  2. Communication through satellites, originally through low earth orbit and more recently, geostationary.
  3. Moon bounce where the Moon is used as very remote radio reflector.
  4. RAYNET is a mutual interest group that provides emergency communications in time of need. More often, members provide communications at special events where they practice the deployment and operation of pop-up networks, primarily for training and the benefit of the event. 
  5. Because VHF/UHF is normally governed by line-of-sight transmission, the UK is largely covered by Amateur built and maintained repeaters that enable consistent mobile communications across a county. They also support various local “nets” that meet over the air at pre-arranged times/days.

World-wide communications is available to everyone today by telephone, mobile phone and internet. However if the idea of you sitting in your shack and using your rig to talk to a like minded person on the other side of the Globe using his rig in his shack appeals to you then get in touch and see what it’s like.