Amateur (ham) radio operators conduct radio communications for non-commercial purposes. Besides day-to-day chit-chat and world-wide "DX" contacts, amateurs help the Red Cross, local police and fire agencies, local offices of emergency services, etc., during times of disaster, when normal communications facilities are overwhelmed. Hams also help local charities with emergency communications to keep bikeathons, walkathons, parades and other activities running safely and smoothly.
The American Radio Relay League and other organizations publish training materials for various license classes, particularly "Now You're Talking" (A.R.R.L.) for the Technician Class license. The price is in the $15-20 range, available at radio electronics stores.
Amateur licensing is handled by hams themselves through the Volunteer Examiner program. It's no longer necessary to appear in person at an F.C.C. (Federal Communications Commission) office to take a test. There are volunteer examiners in all areas of the country. Check your local radio electronics store for additional information.
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