November 16, 2011: Joe Carcia manned the microphone at W1AW at the American Radio Relay League headquarters in Newington, CT. (Allen Pitts / ARRL)

iPhone, beware?

The latest trend in American communication is not another smartphone from Apple or Google, but one of the oldest communication men: amateur radio licenses are up to date with over 700,000 licenses United States, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Amateur radio first took the nation by storm almost a hundred years ago. Last month, the FCC filed 700,314 licenses, nearly 40,000 of them in the past five years. Compare that to 2005 when only 662,600 people pimped it up and you’ll see why those American Radio Relay League – the authority in all things ham – calls it a “golden age”.

“For the past five years we’ve had 20 to 25,000 new hams a year,” Allen Pitts, a group spokesman, told

The unusual slang term – a “ham” is better known as an amateur radio operator – described a bad operator when the first cellular operators began operating in the early 20th century. At the time, government and coastal ships had to compete with amateurs for signal time, as all stations were competing for the same radio wavelength. Frustrated commercial operators called the amateurs “ham” and complained that they had interfered with the signal.

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People like John Pritchett have used the slang term since then.

“It’s curious that the challenge should speak to the rest of the world,” Pritchett told “I meet a lot of people through amateur radio. It is a fascinating experience to meet someone you’ve talked to for years – when you finally meet and leave, wow, that’s you. “

Pritchett has been a ham for over 35 years. He sits in his ham hut and slowly turns the dial of his amateur radio and listens attentively to a voice through the high radio frequency. But he’s not looking for aliens: Pritchett dials in to make contact with someone around the world.

“W6JWK, this is John in Fresno, California,” he says.

Pritchett can communicate with people around the world, or even astronauts in space, by speaking through his microphone or using Morse code.

As more and more people join the hobby, the local amateur radio companies also grow. Amateur electronics supply Everything amateur radio-related equipment is sold in Las Vegas, from transceivers, amplifiers and antennas to handhelds.

“We have customers from all walks of life,” manager Luke Rohn told “We have church groups interested in amateur radio as a viable source of communication in times of natural disasters.” We have young children who find amateur radio interesting. Maybe they heard about it from their father and grandfather and they enjoy it a lot. “

According to the American Radio Relay League, retirees and emergency groups are one of the main reasons behind the nearly 30,000 new hams that take up the hobby each year.

Ham is a safety blessing and a fun pastime: when normal methods of communication fail and cell phone towers are blocked, amateur radios will continue to work and can help in disaster situations as there are no towers required to relay the signal.

“Amateur radio came into play very much during the major Bay Area earthquake in 1989. The only thing I had was a small handheld radio. Otherwise nothing worked, phones didn’t work, cell phones didn’t work, amateur radio just kept working, ”said Pritchett.

Would you like to spice it up with some friends? Try a fox hunt – the radio equivalent of the ham-to-ham fight. During a fox hunt, local amateur radio clubs look for a transmitter (called a fox) with their self-made antennas.

“The fox hunt is really fun – the thrill of the hunt, the competition, being the first to find the station,” said Rob Mavis, president of the Clovis amateur radio pioneers Club in Clovis, California.

Ham radio isn’t fun either: all you need is a few hundred dollars to get started and an FCC license – which is free but requires a $ 10 to $ 12 fee to cover the cost.

Join the latest trend – no iPhone app required.