Origin of the word “Ham” Operator

By Gerry Crenshaw (WD4BIS)

(This was previously published in the Amateur Radio Communicator MARCH/APRIL 1994)

“Have you ever wondered why we radio amateurs are called “HAMS”? Well, according to the Northern Ohio Radio Society, it goes like this: the word ham was applied in 1908 and was the call letters of one of the first Amateur wireless stations operated by some members of the HARVARD RADIO CLUB. There were Albert S. Hyman, Bob Almy and Peggie Murray. At first, they called their station Hyman-Almy-Murry. Tapping out such a long name in code soon called for a revision and they changed it to HY-AL-MU, using the first two letters of each name.

Early in 1909, some confusion resulted between signals from Amateur wireless HYALMU and a Mexican ship named HYALMO, so they decided to use only the first letter of each name and the call became HAM.

In the early pioneer unregulated days of radio, Amateur operators picked their own frequency and call letters. Then, as now, some Amateurs had better signals than some commercial stations. The resulting interference finally came to the attention of congressional committees in Washington and they gave much time to proposed legislation designed to critically limit Amateur activity.

In 1911, Albert Hyman chose the controversial Wireless Regulation Bill as the topic for his thesis at Harvard. His instructor insisted that a copy be sent to Senator David I. Walsh, a member of one of the committees hearing the bill. The Senator was so impressed, he sent for Hyman to appear before the committee. He was put on the stand and described how the little Amateur station was built. He almost cried when he told the crowded committee room that if the bill went through, they would have to close up the station because they could not afford the license fees and all the other requirements that were set up in the bill.

The debate started and the little station HAM became a symbol of all the little Amateur stations in the country crying out to be saved from menace and greed of the big commercial stations who did not want them around. Finally, the bill got to the floor of Congress and every speaker talked about the poor little station “HAM.”

That’s how it all started. You will find the whole story in the Congressional Record. Nationwide publicity associated station HAM with Amateurs. From that day to this, and probably to the end of time, in radio, an Amateur is a HAM.”

North American Amateur Radio Licenses and Classes

Technician License

The Technician class license is the entry-level license of choice for most new ham radio operators. To earn the Technician license requires passing one examination totaling 35 questions on radio theory, regulations and operating practices. The license gives access to all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 megahertz, allowing these licensees the ability to communicate locally and most often within North America. It also allows for some limited privileges on the HF (also called “short wave”) bands used for international communications. Privileges: All VHF/UHF Amateur bands (frequencies above 30 MHz). Operations is limited to certain HF bands. Class Syllabus (sample).

General License
The General class license grants some operating privileges on all Amateur Radio bands and all operating modes. This license opens the door to world-wide communications. Earning the General class license requires passing a 35 question examination. General class licensees must also have passed the Technician written examination. Exam Requirements: 35-question General written exam (Element 3).
License Privileges: All VHF/UHF Amateur bands and most HF privileges (10 through 160 meters). Class Syllabus (sample).

Amateur Extra License*
The Amateur Extra class license conveys all available U.S. Amateur Radio operating privileges on all bands and all modes. Earning the license is more difficult; it requires passing a thorough 50 question examination. Extra class licensees must also have passed all previous license class written examinations. License Privileges: All Amateur band privileges. Class Syllabus (sample).

*Note:  About 15 percent of all U.S. amateurs never make it to this level.

The International Amateur Radio Union (IARU)

1375726436“Created in Paris, France, the International Amateur Radio Union has been the watchdog and spokesman for the world Amateur Radio community since 1925. The IARU Constitution, last amended in 1989, organizes the Union into three Regional Organizations that correspond to the three radio regions of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The IARU Constitution also provides for an IARU Member Society to serve as the Union’s International Secretariat”.  Read more … see link.