I’m curious…what’s Ham Radio ?

Amateur radio, known also as ham radio, is both a hobby and a service that allow communicatoin among licenced people, using various types of radio


equipment, for the sole purpose of self-training, recreation and public service.

Amateur radio is a world-wide community of people that are commonly defined ham radio operators. The things that amateur radio operators do with their radios are diverse as the people themselves. Amateur radio operators are often called ham radio operators or simply “hams.”

The origin of this nickname is for all practical purposes lost. Although some people still speculate about, few agree and even few care. Amateur radio operators proudly call themselves hams and nobody officially knows why.

  • Ham radio operators need to obtain a Governament licence by passing an exam
  • Amateur Radio Service is regulated world-wide by the ITU via the IARU, International Amateur Radio Union
  • Ham radio operators are licensed by the local Governments and enjoy a far more priviledges of radio operation than non-licenced “CB” radio operators do. With these priviledges come responisbilities and rules for the operation of an amateur radio station. Specifically, there are a few things that hams are not allowed to do:
    • Hams are not allowed to do anything with their radios that makes them money in way. Bummer. Ham radio is a hobby, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely frivoulous. (Read on!)
    • Ham radio operator cannot `broadcast’ to the public. This means that ham radio transmissions are meant to be received by other ham radio operatators. While a short-wave radios or scanners will allow you to listen to the ham radio bands, what you will hear is hams talking to other hams and not music or other radio programs of `general’ interest.

Within these (and other) guidelines, however, hams are empowered to do just about everything that goverment and private radio stations are allowed to do.


Things you can to do with amateur radio

  • Talk around the world – With HF radios hams can talk to other hams in literally any part of the globe.
  • Talk around town – With small portable VHF and UHF transceivers hams enjoy extremely reliable communications within their local community.
  • QRP – Communicating with “very low power” is a challange that many hams enjoy. QRP is usually practiced on the HF bands.
  • Packet radio – The internet over ham radio? Not really … but ham radio operators enjoy a digital network of their own, all without wires!
  • Internation morse code – Forget it … You can get a license without knowing one beep or boop of morse code. If you want to, though, it’s still allowed.
  • Amateur television – It’s just like real television because it is real television.
  • Slow Scan TV – Send pictures around the world for little or no cost.
  • Contests – You can put your radio operating skills up against other hams and teams of hams.
  • Order pizzas – It used to be a long standing joke around ham radio operators about what you can not doover ham radio … Now it’s perfectly legal! You can call you favorite pizzaria on your ham radio and order take-out dinner on the way home from work. Hopefully you’ll use your radio less for calling your doctor, the police, emergeny road-side assistance, 911 and other telephone-linked services.
  • Emergency and other volunteer services – Floods, huricanes, mudslides, earthquakes, ice storms … when ever `normal’ communcations go out, hams are ready to use their radios to provide emergency communication services to their communites.
  • Satelite communications – Hams have their own satelites … really! (Amateur’s satelites are easy to use too.
  • Traffic handling – “Ham telegrams” are used to send messages to people around the world at no cost to the sender or the recipient; all done by ham radio operators volunteering their time and resorces.


How to become an amateur radio operator

There are many ways to go about preparing for and taking your ham radio license test.

  • Local clubs – For those that like a structured approach, many clubs organize meetings and classes to teach the basic skills of radio operation and prepare people for their ham radio license test. At the end of the classes, a test is given. If you pass, you’re a ham!
  • Elmers – An elmer is the ham equivalent of a “Yoda.” Many new hams are taught my other hams. (Helping people is a common thread throughout the ham radio hobby.) An elmer knows the stuff you need to pass your test and will help you prepare. While an elmer can not give the RAE examination, he or she will be in touch with other hams in your area and know where public examinations are held.
  • Self-study – It doesn’t seem right to tell you about going it alone, because then you’re not doing it all by yourself! Taking a class or having an Elmer is a far better way to get your license; and when you pass your test you will already have friends to talk to. But if you insist, I feel obliged to tell you how to do it because this is the way I did it.

To legally operate an amateur radio station and acquire an internationally unique call sign, you are required to pass an examination and be registered and licenced with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

KARTS recommmends a training course for new radio amateurs twice a year. If you would like to join a course, then please e-mail us.

A licence can be obtained only after you pass the Radio Amateur Examination – or RAE. This is conducted twice a year in South Africa usually in April/May and October/November.

The exam is organised and conducted by the South African Radio League (SARL) under the auspices of ICASA. It is held at various test centres throughout the country.

There are two classes of licence qualifying one to become a radio amateur or ham:


Class A licensees (prefix ZR or ZS) are required to pass the Class A Radio Amateur Examination (RAE) and complete the HF operating certificate, while Class B licensees (prefix ZU) need to pass the class B Radio Amateur Examination and complete the HF operating certificate. ZU licencees are restricted in terms of the bands available, output power and some other minor items. RAE courses are conducted by many clubs around the country. Contact your closest club for more information. The examination is held twice a year, usually in May and October. Click here for a list of examination centres.

Class B (prefix ZU) Age Restriction. Candidates have to  be under 20 years old to apply for a ZU licence and when they turn 25 are required to upgrade to class A (ZS or ZR) by writing and passing the class A examination.

Current class B licence holders have until 31 March 2013 to upgrade. After  that date their ZU licence will not  be renewed.



The Authority has announced that all persons over 25 years old can no longer renew their ZU licence from 1 April 2017.

More details  

With the publication of the new radio regulations earlier this year, the much talked about age restriction for ZU license holders was implemented. Persons under 20 years old can write the class B examination and if successful can hold a ZU or class B license until 25 years old after which, if they would like to continue with Amateur Radio, have to sit the class A examination to qualify for a class A (ZS/ZR license).

During the discussion stage of this new regulation the SARL was requested to approach ICASA to review their decision, which the SARL did at two occasions when ICASA invited comments on their proposal.  ICASA strongly believes that the class B license prime purpose was to create opportunities for young people to enter Amateur Radio and based on that premises implemented the new regulation. 

The SARL requested ICASA to allow a reasonable period for ZU licences over 25 to upgrade. ICASA agreed to this.  The Authority has announced that all persons over 25 years old can no longer renew their ZU licence from 1 April 2017. In a letter to the affected licensees, currently being mailed, ICASA recommends that the affected persons enrol for a class A license course and write the next RAE in May or October 2016  (SARL NEWS 8 November 2015)

Morse Code in South Africa

There is no morse code requirement for an amateur radio licence in South Africa.

To find out more about the RAE visit the site of the South African Radio League. You can also download the SARL RAE Manual from the SARL site. This manual follows the HAREC syllabus, a requirement for getting a licence in South Africa.

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