Radio amateurs, sometimes known as "Radio Hams", are qualified radio operators of all ages who operate their own radio transmitters at home or almost anywhere. You can communicate with other radio amateurs across town, across the country or even across the world, without any telephone bills. You can transmit messages using speech, computer text, amateur television or Morse code.
Amateur radio offers far more scope for long distance communication with fewer restrictions.
Radio amateurs are allowed to transmit on many different wave bands and some of these allow world-wide communication. Radio amateurs can transmit speech and various other types of signal. Radio amateurs use the unique "call sign" issued with their licence.
Radio amateurs can transmit up to 400 watts with any type of aerial. Radio amateurs can either buy a transmitter, construct their own or modify one made for another purpose providing they have the appropriate license.
Radio amateurs can use mobile or hand-held portable transmitters to access a network of "repeaters" which receive the amateur's signal and re-transmit it at higher power to extend the range. There are even satellites that receive and re-transmit amateur radio signals.
You need some technical knowledge to pass an exam to get an amateur licence but after that, you may be more interested in the operating side of the hobby and meeting people "on the air", both in Britain and abroad.
If you are interested in the technical side, amateur radio offers a lot of scope for electronic construction projects. You can construct all sorts of radio or electronic equipment such as aerials, simple electronic circuits or even a complete transmitter and receiver.
It is also possible to buy low cost surplus PMR (Private Mobile Radio) transceivers (transmitters/receivers) and modify them to operate on amateur radio bands.
You can also connect a computer to an amateur radio transceiver and operate "packet radio". Packet radio messages can travel far beyond the range of your own transmitter by using a network of "nodes" which store the message and forward it to the next node until it reaches its destination. There are also "bulletin boards" which offer free "mail box" facilities to send and receive electronic mail messages to/from other radio amateurs. The UK amateur licence does not permit you to access Internet electronic mail or the World Wide Web via packet radio however.
The University of Hertfordshire Amateur Radio Society (UHARS) is a UH Students' Union society.
Radio amateurs are allowed to transmit quite high power signals so they need some technical knowledge on avoiding interference. You need to pass the City and Guilds 7650 Radio Amateur Examination (RAE) to get a class "B" licence. This allows you to operate on amateur bands at 50 MHz and above. For "short wave" bands below 30 MHz where world-wide communication is possible, you also need to pass a Morse code test but you do not need to use Morse code on the amateur bands. There is also a new type of Licence (Class A/B) that was introduced in August 1999. This allows 100 watts on all HF bands and you only need to pass the RAE and an easy 5 words per minute Morse Code test.
If you are studying science or engineering, you can probably pass the RAE by learning from a text book with some help from members of staff who have an amateur radio licence. Alternatively, there is a simpler amateur "novice licence".