What does it take to get “on the air”?



Getting on the air.


The must-have to becoming a radio amateur is a licence which is permission from Ofcom to transmit using certain frequency bands and associated power levels. Individual radio amateurs are identified by their call signs which are issued by Ofcom and give the amateur permission to operate according to the corresponding licence conditions.

The call sign is granted by demonstrating knowledge of licence conditions and technical issues by passing exams that come in three levels; foundation, intermediate and advanced.

The foundation exam is aimed at the newcomer who will have to show a working knowledge of the regulations, operating, practical construction, an appreciation of non-voice methods e.g. Morse Code or data, plus some relevant technical understanding. The resulting licence will allow  limited power transmission and the ability to gain real on-air experience that will encourage progression through the intermediate and ultimately to the full level. Each step requires a deeper understanding of the regulations and technical issues, and each step up gives greater scope for transmitting by using higher power levels.

The exams are administered by the RSGB and can be studied for by the individual or through most radio clubs and societies.

Aspiring amateurs that already have some technical knowledge may jump in at whatever level suits them – there is no need to go through all the exam stages.

The Isle of Wight Radio Society has a good track record of successfully training newcomers up to foundation level and onto the intermediate level with the capability of training to the full licence level. Mentoring is available.


The structure of the exam grades.

So as to encourage newcomers into the hobby and whilst recognising that some form of knowledge must be evident, the original single step exam was replaced long ago with a three step process; Foundation, Intermediate and Full. Each step rewards the successful candidate with an identifiable callsign and greater transmit privileges – see the table to the right

The diagram to the right shows the progression through the three levels of examinations. All levels contain sections on licence conditions and technical knowledge. In addition, the Foundation level requires a demonstration of basic operating procedures and construction capabilities.



The licence conditions part of the exam is all about knowledge of the Ofcom Amateur Radio Licence and is a read-and-remember learning activity.

All three levels are supported by lots of books and online tuition. The appropriate official syllabus is maintained and published by the RSGB, as is their own additional supportive material.

[ The RSGB manages the examination processes of behalf of Ofcom. ]

Someone coming into the hobby with existing skills and knowledge can enter the examination trail at whatever level they feel comfortable in.

Preparation for the exams can be done entirely by the individual, or through a Club group training program, or somewhere in between as individual learning supported by a mentor. 

On successful completion of a examination, the candidate receives certification that allows them to apply to Ofcom for a licence and callsign – after which, it is time to get on the air!