Somewhat recently I went and pass the test for the Amateur (HAM) radio license, I took 2 of the tests and passed at the general level, which essentially gives more permissions to talk on more frequencies and different technology on specific frequencies. Leading up to this I had been doing various reading on different communication methods that were popular today for areas that don't normally have good or even at all cell phone coverage. HAM specifically stuck out beyond little walkie talkies or CB radios in this regard as they have much better range, can also use these devices called repeaters to even further extend range in areas that have them. The specifics for the communication revolved around offroading type activities, but ultimately I feel that these devices are incredibly useful in a variety of situations including offroading, hiking, but general emergency communications. Beyond emergencies and general communications in remote areas there is the ability to just chat with people all around the world using a technology that doesn't rely on the internet wholesale, or cell phones or any service that even necessarily needs to be paid for. The emergency preparedness side is huge though on its own, these radios can function when cell phone towers are not really working, or power is out on. Some radios have crazy other functionality too like APRS where you can get/feed GPS location and get active tracks on maps, various digital modes that can talk on, send messages or small binaries. There is a lot of really awesome stuff that can be done with these radios and technology that works in a variety of conditions. The bar to get going on this stuff is pretty low, just have to pass a test that costs $15 per session. A basic but functional radio can be as cheap as around $30, which would likely be enough for most to get started with. The point here is collect a general outline of resources necessary to get a HAM license and touch on some brief technology around some aspects of it.
As it was suggested to me when I started and generally is good in a variety of areas, should head over to the ARRL Amateur radio find an exam find a close by test that isn't too far off in the future and mark that in your calendar as the date/time that you are going to go take the test. Generally just picking a time that works best that isn't unreasonably far or too close in the future as one needs to study some to take the test. The way the test sessions work is you pay the $15 (or any additional fees for the testing center) and you can sit down and either take 1, 2 or all 3 of the tests while only paying for the one session fee. There are three levels one can get certified for, they are: technician, general and extra. As mentioned each one has different permissions or allowable things a person is authorized for. Some additional details on each class level can be found on the AARL Getting Licensed page.
It is also helpful to preregister on the FCC website and get an FRN number: FCC Cores. This way saves a fair bit of time when going to the test and getting your call sign back. Also probably helpful in general to find a local HAM radio club, there are many all over the place, they are also generally the ones that will be administering the test.
There is a couple of ways to go about getting ready for the test, it is pretty applicable to each test. In my case I studied for both the Technician and the General test. Neither one is all that difficult, ultimately went the path of memorizing the questions with some general context around them so that there was some general understanding. Since both the technician and general tests are only 25 questions, the pools for each test are fairly large but not that crazy. Also the test pools are freely available so you can go and just get them directly from the FCC but I found some books and a very handy website that used a flash card like system to learn to be the best general route. There is also classes available if that is the preferred method, they generally do cost money and can be searched for on the AARL find a class page. The tests are ultimately not that difficult, there is not a lot of math and or even that deep into electronics theory. There is some but it shouldn't be too terribly difficult to get through for most people. The technician test as well really does try to cover more of the rules and regulations while touching on some of the functional use in a base sort of sense.
The following 2 books were the only ones I got, I didn't even go through them in their entirety. There are several other books out there these are the ones that I found and seemed good from what I read on them before buying the book. They did help, especially the technician book as it does give a fairly nice explanation for the technology and concepts. It does not follow each test pool in order so as the author is going through a particular area he will pull in variety of related test questions even if they are in different pools. This I felt was a reasonable approach for learning the material.
There are some flash card apps specific to IOS and Android. The following study website also has its own Android and IOS app that you can login to and sync your progress between the website and your app. This particular prep I found to be really nice, just power through answering questions from the various test pools and will keep tabs on how many questions from each pool you have seen. It is also great about not excessively going over questions that you don't have a lot of trouble with and focusing more on the difficult ones. Also has details on the answers as to why they are the way they are.
These are just general bits of reference that is very handy for the test and generally to have
- Band Chart - A color image chart of usable frequencies and what license is needed for that frequency.
- Band Plan - Each set frequency ranges is divided up in its use and the band plan represents details of the divided up frequencies. Detailing aspects like which frequencies will generally have repeaters on, which ones generally are used for digital modes and so forth. It isn't per say regulated or enforced more agreed upon to keep things sane in a frequency block.
- Repeater Book - probably more useful after passing the test but still neat to see what repeaters are around you and various details about them.
There are some great video guides out there for general reference that cover a variety of different areas/topics from getting started to picking a radio.
- Ham Radio Crash Course Great set of videos that covers a lot.
There are certainly a lot of others out there, this one was a good one that I got my second radio from and they sent it pretty fast without too much of an issue.
Just studying up for and taking the test is really just the beginning of going down this rabbit hole. There is really a lot of other things to learn and research and do. Technology like digital modes, echolink, various radio technology, different frequencies and talking on them. Really also just getting on the air is an important step as well.