The question which usually crops up is, what exactly is Amateur Radio? To the majority of people Amateur Radio is merely a hobby where people communicate between each other using sophisticated radio equipment. Some are even under the impression that Amateur Radio and Citizen Band are the same thing. The fact that Amateurs and CB'ers use the same media to communicate is where our similarity starts and ends.
Radio Amateurs have been instrumental on numerous occasions in locating life-saving medicines and have also worked in close conjunction with the official public emergency services during major disasters.
Amateur Radio is also officially seen as a means of self- training, and it has been through those countless hours devoted by some Radio Amateur towards improving their equipment's performance and other experimentation, that many important technical advancements have been made.
Marconi once described himself as an Amateur, and it is thanks to him and to the pioneering work of many others, the professionals and the amateurs, that the science of radio communication has reached it's present stage and continues to improve. Come to think of it, we wouldn't be able to watch our favourite satellite TV programme if it hadn't been for them.
Of the many firsts which have been achieved through our Amateur Radio, one milestone was the world's first open-access communication satellite called OSCAR 1. This was designed, built and used by Radio Amateurs. Another was the worlds first VHF Europe/Asia contact on VHF achieved by a Gibraltarian Radio Amateur. So even before Cable & Wireless installed their earth station in Gibraltar, Radio Amateurs were communicating worldwide via satellites.
However, don't be misled into thinking that you have to be a technical wizard to hold an Amateur Radio licence. Radio Amateurs come from all walks of life. Many who aren't that technically inclined devote their time to other facets of our hobby, such as contest operating.
Becoming a Radio Ham is not difficult, all you have to do is satisfy the licensing authorities that you are capable of operating an Amateur Radio station without being a nuisance to other radio services. You do this by learning about the theory of radio and the licence regulations and then sitting and examination to test your knowledge. Once you've passed, you can then apply for an Amateur Radio Licence. The licence is just a piece of paper telling you in broad terms what you can and cannot do on the air and also contains your callsign.
The callsign, which is something all Radio Amateurs are proud of, not only denotes the country where the station is located, but it's last letters, the prefix, are particular to that particular station. So when you hear a callsign, for example, ZB2BU, you tell straight away from it's prefix where that station is located, and you can tell from it's suffix, by checking it in the callbook, which lists all Radio Amateurs throughout the world, the name and address of the station you are listening to or talking with.