What should I learn First, Second, Third...?

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While there are multitudes of aspects of the hobby to entice you, there are a few basics that are handy to learn, and you can pick these things up whether or not you have earned your ticket. (Just remember: if you have a radio before you have a license, it is illegal to use the PTT button, unless a licensed ham is controlling the operation.)

These are a few basics that will come in handy:

  • LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN! The book-learning for your test is critical, but there's also no substitute for monitoring frequencies and hearing how hams interact. Being familiar with terminology, etiquette, and the technology itself will make it much easier to jump in on the action once you are licensed. One simple trick to try is to "ghost" a conversation, by saying to yourself (or silently) what you would say when keying up your radio--before you ever do key it up.
  • Learn how repeaters work. Most hams these days begin their journey on FM repeaters on the 144-148MHz (2 meter) and/or 440-450MHz (70cm) bands. Knowing your way around your local repeaters will set you up to get into the hobby and begin exploring it.
  • Speaking of repeaters, learn where the ones in your area are. There are lots of resources for this, from smartphone apps to your favorite search engine, to the trusty ARRL Repeater Directory (via paper or electrons). Once you have the repeaters programmed into your radio or scanner, you can quickly get a feel for the character of each one. Some repeaters are silent just about all the time, and others are lively around the clock. The repeater guides won't tell you which are which--so back to the first point: listen and learn!
  • Start thinking about how you want to set up your station--at home, in the vehicle, "foot-mobile," wherever, and then explore the various pages of this wiki or the abundant other online resources to learn more.
  • Find an "elmer" (an experienced ham mentor). This one isn't always easy--some folks are introverts and would rather learn on their own. But if you want to work with an elmer, a little time on a repeater (if you're licensed!) or at a club, will give you a great boost in learning the ropes.