Picture this scenario; you have a medical emergency, but the cellphone network is down, 911 is overloaded, and the internet is inaccessible. Pretty frustrating, right? So just what do you use to communicate when in a situation like this or one that is quite similar to this one? That’s right, a ham radio. With approximately 750000 ham radio operators in the United States and over six million across the globe, it’s pretty obvious that ham radios have been the most sought after communication gadgets. This is simply because of how convenient, reliable, versatile, and independent they are.
Perhaps you want to join the bandwagon, but all that technical jargon you have heard or come across just scares you away. Well, not to worry because we went ahead and put together an all-inclusive guide on everything you need to know about ham radios. So, let’s get started, shall we?
What is ham radio?
Ham radio also known as amateur radio, is basically the use of a set of radio frequencies assigned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States and the International Telecommunication Union globally, to pass information from one person to another for non-commercial purposes only. It could be for recreational purposes, contests, radio sporting, self-training, wireless experimentation, emergency purposes, to name a few.
Over the years, amateur radio has continued to gain its popularity among many people around the world because of its ability to bring people together and help them keep in touch regardless of the current circumstances and location among other benefits which we look at in just a bit. But before we do so, here is an interesting fact about ham radio. Did you know that the name “ham” was actually a nickname given to amateur radio operators by commercial radio operators and professional radio communities back in 1909? Well, now, you know.
Benefits of ham radio
- Ham radios do not depend on any pre-established communication grids like cellphone towers and network connection poles. This enables you to easily communicate with others even when the cellphone tower or network connection near you has issues.
- A ham radio does not need much to start working. All you need is a reliable power source, and a powerful antenna and you are good to go.
- Ham radios are easy to learn and use. Compared to most communication devices, amateur radios are not complicated, making them pretty straightforward to learn how to operate them.
- Ham radios enable you to listen to emergency broadcasts that keep you updated in case any disasters have occurred near you. What’s more, it also allows you to communicate with emergency services regardless of your current location, enabling you to call for help in the event of an emergency.
- Ham radios operate on wider frequency ranges with lots of channels to tune into, allowing you to have clear and smooth communication with other ham radio operators across the globe. Isn’t that amazing?
- Apart from facilitating voice communication, there are some technologically advanced ham radios that allow you to share and receive pictures without having to use the internet.
We could go on and on about the benefits of using a ham radio, but now let’s take a trip down the history books and take a look at the history behind the ham radio’s existence.
History of Ham Radio
The history behind ham radio is quite long, so we went ahead and picked the significant milestones that played important roles in the development of ham radio throughout the years.
Amateur radio’s history dates back to the early 20th century, where it is believed that there existed some simple published instructions on how to build a simple wireless communication system. Before that, in the late 19th century, wired telegraphers used to set up interconnected telegraphic systems.
In 1888, a man known as Henrich Rudolf Hertz proved the existence of radio waves. This gave the platform for a man named Guglielmo Marconi to invent a wireless communication system in 1895. Following Guglielmo’s success, many people began building wireless telegraphic communication systems ( it is believed that the name” radio” did not become common until several years later) based on published information about Hertz’s experiments, which by then was known as the “Herztian wave.” In that period, the world of wireless communication witnessed two major milestones. The first one was in 1904 when two 8th graders in Boston, Massachusetts, built a transmitter and receiver with a transmit range of 8 miles. The second one was in 1906 when two teenagers in Rhode Island constructed a wireless station in a chicken coop.
It is also believed that in the United States, the first commercially produced wireless telegraphic transceiver system was made available to amateurs and experimenters back in 1905. In 1908, some students at Columbia University formed the first amateur radio operators group; the Wireless Telegraphy Club of Columbia University, now known as the Columbia University Amateur Radio Club. In 1910, amateurs in Australia formed the now Wireless Institute of Australia. A lot transpired in the world of wireless radio communication until 1917, during World War 1 when the United States Congress stopped amateur radio by ordering all ham radio operators to stop operating and even dismantle all of their equipment. After the war ended, all the restrictions were lifted, and amateur operators began their operations again on 1st October 1919. However, all the operations were stopped again in 1941 during the 2nd World War. During this period, the US government formed the War Emergency Radio Service that would remain active throughout 1945.
In 1979, during the World Administrative Radio Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, three new amateur radio bands were established; 30 meters, 17 meters, and 12 meters, now referred to as the WARC bands. Fast forward to 2003, when another World Administrative Radio Conference took place. During the conference, members voted to allow the International Telecommunication Union member countries stop Morse Code testing if they wanted to. The Morse Code testing was a mandatory test that any amateur radio operator had to go through before using frequencies below 30 MHz, as required by the International Telecommunication Union. This led to the United States’ Federal Communications Commission issuing a report to eliminate all Morse Code testing requirements for any American applying for an amateur radio license on 15th December 2006. This took effect on 23rd February 2007. Many other member countries followed suit, which saw a massive increase in the number of amateur radio operators across the globe.
Later on, most European countries proceeded to allow licensed ham radio operators from other countries to apply and receive residential permits to transmit in their countries.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the different types of radios out in the market, shall we?
Types of Radios
- Amateur “ham” radio
Like we mentioned earlier, a ham radio is a unit that operates on a set of radio frequencies assigned by the FCC and the International Telecommunication Union, specifically for non-commercial communication and other activities like wireless experimentation, radio sporting, self-training, personal recreation, to mention a few.
Amateur radios are known to operate on frequencies ranging between 1.8MHz and 1300MHz with gaps in between, making them the only type of radio with the widest range of frequency options. They are also known to operate on high power output and have high transmit ranges compared to other types of radios. It is also important to keep in mind that you have to have a verified ham radio license to operate one.
- Citizens’ Band (CB) Radio
A CB radio is a two-way voice communication radio that is FCC Part-95 certified and is suitable for both personal and commercial activities. The unit operates on 40 channels that are below the 27MHz frequency range as allowed by the FCC. It also operates in both AM (Amplitude Modulation) and SSB (Single Sideband) mode.
Under the CB radio category, there also is another group of high-end CB radios called SSB-CB radios. These radios are designed to allow the user to access both the lower and upper sideband modes on each of the standard 40 channels. This enables them to offer more benefits like access to more channels, better audio quality, to mention a few compared to regular CB radios.
Unlike ham radios, CB radios do not require a license to operate, so anyone can use a CB radio as long as they adhere to the FCC Part-95 rules and regulations.
- General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) Radio
A GMRS radio is a unit that is designed mainly for short-range two-way communication. Like CB radios, these devices are also FCC Part-95 certified, enabling them to operate on 22 channels that are within 462 and 467 MHz frequency ranges in the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band. Like ham radios, these radios require you to have a license to operate. But not to worry since unlike ham radios, you do not have to get tested to receive your license. Instead, you can go ahead and purchase one for just $70. That’s right, $70. Pretty impressive, right? All you have to fill out an application form either manually or online through the FCC Universal Licensing System. What’s more, the license can be extended to your immediate family members, so they do not have to buy one themselves.
- Family Radio Service (FRS) Radio
Like the GMRS and MURS radios, an FRS radio is a unit designed for short-range two-way communication and is suitable mainly for family and group activities. Like the GMRS radio, this device operates on 22 channels within 462 and 467 MHz frequency ranges in the Ultra High-Frequency band, making it suitable for short-distance two-way communication. It also operates in the Frequency Modulation (FM) mode. With all these similarities, it is safe to say that FRS radios are compatible with GMRS radios. However, unlike GMRS radios, you do not require a license to operate.
- Digital Mobile Radio (DMR)
DMR radio is a unit designed to operate on the international radio standards developed by the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI) back in 2005. In simple terms, this a new and improved version of analog radio. These devices are known to be less complicated, more affordable, and have a ton of advantages compared to analog radios. One of these advantages is the utilization of the Time Division Access (TDMA) technology. DMR radios use the TDMA technology to double a single 12.5KHz narrowband channel’s capacity enabling users to make two independent calls simultaneously through the same channel, making them have a higher channel capacity than analog radios.
As authorized and guided by the ETSI, radio communication companies produce three types of DMR radios; Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 DMR radios. Tier 1 DMR radios do not require a license to operate, while Tier 2 and 3 DMR radios need one to have the appropriate license to operate.
- Multi-Use Radio Service(MURS) Radio
Like GMRS and FRS radios, Multi-Use Radio Service radio is a unit designed for short-distance two-way communication and is suitable for personal and commercial purposes. MURS radios operate on five channels in the 151 and 154MHz frequency range, most of which are known as “color dot” channels in the Part-90 rules and regulations.
Initially, MURS radios were FCC Part-90 certified, which meant that users need to have a license to operate. However, in the late 2000, the FCC made them Part-95 certified, meaning that users do not require a license to operate them.
Let’s now go ahead and explore the different types of ham radio, shall we?
Types of Ham Radio
The subject of the number of different types of ham radios out in the market has and still is a controversial one. While some people say that there are three types of ham radios, others argue that there are actually four types of ham radios. Well, we decided to explain all four types, just to keep you in the know.
- Handheld ham radio
Remember those walkie talkies you used to use when you were a kid? Well, handheld ham radios look like that only that they are more powerful and technologically advanced. Handheld ham radios operate on high power output of up to 10 watts, higher frequencies ranges, and more than one frequency band like the Very High Frequency (VHF) band, Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band.
With a powerful antenna, handheld ham radios can transmit on a pretty decent range.
Check out Best handheld Ham Radio Reviews
- Mobile ham radio
Mobile ham radios are a bit larger and much more powerful than handheld ham radios. They are commonly known to have a transmit power of between 25 and 65 watts, but that means they need a constant power supply. They also allow users to attach longer external antennas, which boosts their maximum range up to 100 watts. Like handheld ham radios, they also operate on more than one frequency band and have a broader range of frequency options.
Due to their need for a constant power supply, mobile radios are mainly used in vehicles.
- Base station ham radio
Base station ham radios are larger and more powerful than both handheld and mobile ham radios. In fact, some of them are large enough to occupy an entire room. Like mobile ham radios, these devices require a constant power supply to function. They also allow users to very long antennas that are up to several meters high, making them have a higher transmit range. Base ham radios are quite expensive, so they are mostly used in ham radio clubs and emergency centers, allowing other ham radio operators to use them as repeaters.
- Manpack ham radio
The last and most uncommon type is the manpack ham radio. This is a mobile ham radio but comes with a built-in rechargeable battery. This means that you can recharge in your vehicle, unplug it, and carry it in your backpack.
Manpack ham radios have a better transmit range than handheld ham radios but are not as strong as mobile ham radios. They also have a short battery life, which is pretty much why they are not common.
Ham Radio License
You may have known by now that amateur radio in the United States is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is under the Communications Act of 1934. And one of the main rules of this commission is that anyone who wants to be a ham radio operator must have a valid license, failure to which one can face some consequences which we will look at later in this guide. So, let’s go ahead and take a closer look at everything you need to know about ham radio license.
Types of ham radio licenses
Up until December 1999, there were six types of ham radio licenses. In April 2000, after a lot of considerations and reviewing of the whole Amateur Radio Licensing System by the FCC, the number of licenses was reduced down to three. In February 2007, the FCC also eliminated the mandatory Morse Code testing. All this was done to make the ham radio license acquisition less complicated and encourage more ham radio enthusiasts to get their licenses.
So currently, there are three types of ham radio licenses; Technician, General, and Amateur Extra license. Thanks to the FCC streamlining the system, the transition from one having one license to another is smooth, giving one the approval to operate on more frequencies. However, it is important to note that the higher the license level, the more difficult the examination will be.
It is also important to keep in mind that although the FCC is in charge of the licensing system, the license tests are given by volunteer groups of ham radio operators under the organization called the Volunteer Examiner Coordinators. These groups are responsible for administering and grading the tests, which they then forward the results to the FCC, who then award the respective license. So, let’s take a more in-depth look at these types of licenses, shall we?
- Technician License
Also known as the “tech” license, this is the beginning point of every ham radio operator. According to research, most operators prefer having this license only. So basically, you have to have this license before proceeding to take a test to acquire the other two licenses if you want to. The examination to acquire this license consists of 35 questions on radio theory and basic radio operating practices. According to the FCC, you have to pass at least 26 questions to get a Technician license.
This license gives you the privilege of operating on all ham radio bands, including Very High Frequency and Ultra High-Frequency bands with frequencies of above 50 MHz. It also allows you to operate in Morse Code (CW) mode on some of the High Frequency (HF) bands below 30 MHz. And that’s not all; it also gives you the privilege to operate on the HF bands, also known as shortwave bands used for international communications. Simply put, you can communicate with other ham radio operators across the world.
- General License
Next up is the General license, which requires you to pass a more difficult exam than the Entry-level Technician license. But it does give you more privileges than the Tech license. This license’s exam consists of 35 questions, of which you are required to pass at least 26 questions to acquire the license. Most of the questions are quite similar to the Tech license’s exam questions but are more detailed.
The exam also covers new topics that, at this level, you are expected to be familiar with. Upon passing the test and receiving your license, you automatically gain the privilege of transmitting on all ham radio bands and frequencies and have increased High-Frequency band privileges, which gives you more opportunities to engage in worldwide communications.
- Amateur Extra license
This is the highest level with the most privileges and, of course, the most difficult exam. Ham radio operators who pass this test and acquire the license consider it to be a real achievement. The license’s exam consists of 50 questions, of which you are required to have passed at least 37 of them to receive a license.
The questions mainly cover additional rules and regulations related to more advanced ham radio operations and some other technologically advanced topics. Upon passing the exams, you automatically gain all of the ham radio operating privileges on all amateur radio bands and modes available in the United States.
Wondering how you can either of these licenses? Well, fret not because below is a step-by-step guide on how to do so.
How to get a ham radio license
First things first, there are a couple of basic requirements you need to have before beginning to go through the process of getting yourself a ham radio license. These requirements include;
- A valid Taxpayer identification number like a Social Security Number or an FCC registration number. However, most ham radio experts recommend getting an FCC registration number to make the whole process easier.
- A valid US mailing address.
So let’s jump right into the steps on how to get a ham radio license.
Step 1: Identify which level of license you are applying for.
As we mentioned earlier, there are three levels of ham radio licenses. If you are a beginner, you have to first get the Technician license and then work your up to getting the top-level Amateur Extra license if you want to. So, after you have identified the license you are applying for, it is always essential to gather as much information as possible concerning that particular license. This information includes; the number and type of questions in the test; for example, in the Technician license’s exam, there are 35 questions in the test picked randomly from about 400 questions, which you can look up online and familiarize yourself with them. What areas or topics these questions cover, which we explored in detail when talking about the types of ham radio licenses. How many questions you need to get correct to pass the test, to name a few.
Step 2: Study for the test
It might look like a tedious task, but studying for the exam can be pretty straightforward with the right resources and guidelines. What are these resources we are talking about? You may ask. Like any other exam, you need to get books and other exam materials that will help you prepare for that test. Fortunately, many of these resources are readily available, so you won’t have a hard time looking for them. For starters, there are a lot of free books, YouTube videos, and manuals online that can help you polish up on the test. However, most experts argue that these free materials are not as detailed; that is why they recommend purchasing them, which is worth it since they will significantly increase your knowledge on everything about ham radios.
Some websites have also put together a lot of useful information on apps that you can access by downloading one on your smartphone. And that’s not all; other websites and ham radio clubs offer a detailed ham radio online course that helps you learn everything you need to know about each license’s exam. These courses also provide you with a real FCC sample test that you can take and track your learning progress. What’s more, ham radio clubs allow you to interact with other experienced ham radio operators who will guide you throughout your learning progress.
Step 3: Prepare yourself for the exam
You’re probably wondering, “I have studied for the exam, so what else do I need to need to do?” well, you also need to do a couple of other things to be fully prepared for the exam. As we mentioned earlier, volunteer groups, better known as Volunteer Examiner Coordinators( VECs), are responsible for administering and grading the tests, then forwarding the results to the FCC. So, you need to get in touch with a volunteer ham radio group in your locality then inquire about the dates and time they conduct the test, the cost of the whole process, when you can check if you have passed and been awarded a license, whether you can take the exam online if you cannot show up in person to sit for the exam, to name a few. From there, you can decide on a preferable date and time to take the test.
Most volunteer ham radio groups charge approximately $15 for the test. And thanks to a recent notice by the FCC, you can now take your test online if you cannot show up to take the test personally. In fact, there are a lot of volunteer ham radio groups that allow people to take exams online. You just have to check out which one in your local area does and contact them.
Step 4: Sit for the examination
After you have done all that, now it’s time to take the test. When you have completed the exam, the examiner coordinators immediately grade your test, and if you have passed, they go ahead and give you a signed paper indicating that you have passed. You then have to wait for the FCC to send your official license and call sign via email in PDF form so you can print it out. However, since it takes a while, you can actually begin transmitting as soon as your name appears on the official FCC database. Well, here are simple steps on how to check for your name on the database.
Step 1: Go to the FCC official website.
Step 2: Right on the top of the navigation tab, you will find the licensing database. Go ahead and click it.
Step 3: Upon clicking the database, you will be directed to the Universal Licensing System abbreviated as ULS. Go ahead and click on it.
Step 4: After clicking on the ULS, a search option will appear. Under the search type option, type in the level of license you applied for, then under the search field option, type in your official name.
Ham Radio License Renewal
Like other common licenses we know of, a ham radio license is also valid for a certain period, meaning you have to renew yours every once in a while. So, let’s a more in-depth look at some of the most frequently asked questions about ham radio license renewal, shall we?
How long is a ham radio license good for?
According to the FCC, your ham radio license is valid for ten years from the date you receive it, which is a very long time.
How much does it cost to renew a ham radio license?
The FCC renews ham radio licenses free of charge. All you have to do is go to the official FCC website and submit your license renewal application. However, the only downside is that the process takes quite sometime before it is completed. That is why most operators prefer the Volunteer Examiner Coordinators renewing their licenses, of course, at a fee.
What happens if I use a ham radio without a license?
While it is possible to operate a ham radio without a license, it won’t take long before you face some pretty harsh consequences. For starters, one of the core reasons why the FCC requires every operator to have a license is to ensure that the channels one operator is operating on are not overlapping with someone else’s. This ensures that everyone has smooth communication.
If you happen to use your device without a license or with an expired one, the FCC will assign the channels you are communicating on to another operator. This will obviously interfere with both of your transmissions. And when the FCC finally realizes, you will face some consequences such as hefty fines, seizure of your equipment, among other penalties.
Ham radio call signs
Right after the VEC that gave you the license test submits your results to the FCC, they proceed to issue you with a license and a call sign. So, what is a call sign? You may ask. Well, pretty much similar to a car’s license plate, a ham radio call sign is a unique “identification name” given to every ham radio station that helps identify the ham radio operator as well as the country and region they are operating from.
Amateur radio call signs have a pretty unique structure. The sign consists of a prefix and a call sign serial number. Let’s go ahead and use a sample call sign, shall we?
From the above example, the prefix part is up to the first number of the whole call sign, which is 8. The remaining part makes up the call sign serial number that indicates your country, region or district. Most call sign serial numbers consist of three letters; however, if you are from a region with a few ham radio stations, your call sign might have two letters.
Suppose you don’t like the call sign the FCC has issued you for one reason or Another. Well, thanks to the many reconsiderations made by the FCC, you can change your ham radio call sign by requesting for a vanity call sign. A ham radio vanity call sign is a specific call sign that you can pick for your station. You can do so manually by filling out a Form65 or change it online through the FCC’s Universal Licensing System. However, before doing so, you have to check for available call signs and then pick one that suits you best. You can do so by searching for available call signs on the FCC’s Universal Licensing System. However, most people have pointed out that the process is relatively slow; that is why most operators prefer checking for them on the WM7D call sign database.
With that being said, let’s dive deeper into how this device works.
How does a ham radio work?
It is no doubt that ham radios work in quite a complicated way, especially with all the technical stuff involved. However, simply understanding the fundamental concepts surrounding ham radio will definitely make things a lot easier for you, especially if you are a newbie. So, let’s go ahead and explore these basic concepts, shall we?
- Radio Frequencies
You have probably noticed that we have mentioned the term “frequency” a couple of times in this guide and you are wondering what it is. Well, a radio frequency is basically the number of radio waves per second. These waves are often converted to kilohertz, megahertz, and gigahertz; that is why you will come across frequencies like 520kHz, 400MHz, to mention a few. For instance, 1 megahertz is equivalent to one million waves per second, so 400 megahertz is equivalent to 400 million radio waves per second.
A wavelength is the physical distance between the peak of one radio wave and the peak of another radio wave. À radio wavelength and frequency are considered to have an inverse relationship, since the higher the frequency, the lower or shorter the radio wavelength will be.
- HF, VHF, and UHF
Pretty common acronyms, right? Well, HF stands for High Frequency which is between 3 and 30MHz. VHF stands for Very High Frequency which is between 30 and 300MHz, and UHF stands for Ultra High Frequency which is between 300MHz and 30GHz. They are a representation of the evolution of frequencies over the years.
- Radio Bands
Radio bands are basically ranges or groups of radio frequencies. They are often identified by a frequency or a wavelength. According to experts, there are a total of 27 radio bands, 11 of which are considered to be popular. Beginners mostly have access to two radio bands; the 2-meter band with frequencies of between 144-148MHz and the 70-meter band with frequencies of between 430-440 MHz.
- Radio channels
These are simply “identification numbers” that are used to help ham radio operators easily remember and access radio frequencies. For instance; instead of saying frequency 27.345MHz, you can simply refer to it as channel 20.
- Ham radio repeaters
Truth be told, most ham radios often experience interferences during transmission, mainly because of the signal strength. This is where a ham radio repeater comes in. This is a ham radio with its antenna located at a high point like a mountain top or a tower. When you access channels on this device, it automatically “repeats” your audio and boosts your signal and transmit range, enabling you to pick up signals and be heard clearly from a longer distance.
How to operate a ham radio
Operating a ham radio is pretty much easy considering that you most likely learnt the basics when studying for your license’s exam. The main function of a ham radio is to enable you to communicate, right? So, one of the most important things to learn when getting yourself acquainted with how to operate a ham radio is to talk to other operators. Fortunately, there are a ton of manuals and videos that explain in detail how to operate a ham radio.
They explain things like how to find a frequency that is not being used, how to tune your antenna, how to send a QRL( that is asking if anyone is using a particular frequency), to mention a few. What’s more, they also help you learn the popular terms or codes used by ham radio operators across the globe when communicating. For instance; 73 means goodbye, 83 means with love, SK means signed off, GL means good luck, among many others.
Important things to consider when purchasing a ham radio-Buying Guide
Now that you have learnt everything you need to know about ham radio, it’s now time to get yourself one. But not so fast. There are a couple of things you have to keep in mind when choosing a ham radio to buy to ensure that you end up with the ideal device. Let’s jump right into these factors, shall we?
- Vendor Authenticity
A lot of ham radio operators; both experienced and beginners do not know, but as the number of ham radios continues to increase in the market, so does the number of counterfeit devices finding their way into the market. This increases the possibility of a buyer ending up with a fake ham radio compared to that of ending up with an original one. So, how do you prevent yourself from purchasing a counterfeit device? The first and most effective way to do so is by ensuring that the vendor you buying the device from is an authorized distributor. You can do so by going through their website and reading their customers’ reviews. You can also opt to purchase the radio from one of the popular websites like Amazon where you are sure that you will receive s original ham radio.
- Overall design and quality
Like almost any other product, the overall design and quality of a ham radio are very crucial. So when choosing a ham radio to purchase, always go for one that has a robust structure enabling it to withstand even the harshest impacts. The device should also have a decent waterproof rating, meaning that it will not be affected by accidental splashes of water. In general, go for a device that will give you service for the longest time possible.
Although it is one of the accompanying equipment, an antenna is the heart and soul of a ham radio. This is because it plays a very significant role in determining the overall performance of the device. When shopping for a ham radio, always pay close attention to the quality of the antenna. A good antenna should perfectly capture and transmit frequencies, enabling you to receive crisp and clear audio. As for the length, the longer the antenna, the better. Unfortunately, most ham radios have short antennas; that is why it is important to choose one that has a detachable antenna. This will allow you to attach a longer antenna that will ramp up your transmit range.
- The purpose behind buying the ham radio
Most people do not put this into much consideration, but it is essential. Before shopping for a ham radio, it’s important to ask yourself what you need it for. This will determine other important factors like your budget range.
Apart from being great devices for emergencies, ham radios have been one of those devices that have constantly brought people from all around the world together. It may have looked like a tedious and challenging hobby to begin, but thanks to this all-inclusive guide, everything about ham radio is a piece of cake.
Well, what are you waiting for? Join the community and enjoy one of the most rewarding hobbies around.