Login to the FCC web site and sign up for a FRN. This is free and necessary to get your first HAM license. Keep track of this login as you'll need it later.
New User Registration
Register and receive your FRN
Proceed as an individual
Fill out all the fields
Use a reasonable password and record it securely. You don't want to lose or compromise this login
Wait for your FRN to arrive by email. Keep track of this number and login as you will need it later.
Buy or borrow a study guide. The red spiral book published by the ARRL is an excellent starting point, and easy to read. There are plenty of other study guides from well known authors which walk you through the material in easy to understand terms. Gordon West is a very popular teacher for new hams, and there are dozens of online study guides which cover this material. Study material should show current test question dates, as the ARRL updates the material every few years.
Optional and recommended. Find a HAM and ask questions. Anyone who has gone through this exam certification process can give you valuable insight, but they will all tell you study and effort is required on your part. You can also read the FCC rules regarding amateur radio, starting with Part 97, which is probably the most sensible publication of rules ever written by our government. Attending an amateur radio club is another great way to find local hams while encouraging your learning process. If you have specific questions, this is where a local ham can help you understand a topic. Critically look on youtube for videos explaining a challenging radio subject. There are many great video explanations and unfortunately plenty of crazy people too.
Take some online practice exams. Some cost and come bundled with study material while others are entirely free. The site www.hamstudy.org is used by a few exam groups within San Diego county for study, practice, and exam sessions. The questions are always updated and the practice tests look exactly like the real thing. When you become proficient at the practice tests and are ready to schedule an exam, you have choices including in-person testing as well as online using Zoom. https://hamstudy.org/sessions The online exams use the test and grading services from the hamstudy.org group.
You could memorize all the questions and answers. While this will ensure your success on the exam, it's not the best way to learn the material since the theories behind radio technology are important parts of operating a radio well. If you can pass the practice exams consistently with an 85% or higher score, you are probably ready!
Sign up for your first radio exam. You'll need a few items to prove identification, plus your FCC FRN obtained in step 1. The exam cost is usually less than $15, and the actual test will take less than an hour. The technician test is 35 questions, and you must answer at least 74% correctly. The exam is pass or fail, and when you have successfully passed, your new call sign instructions will be emailed to you usually within a few days.
SANDARC publishes a list of in-person, online exams, and licensing classes. Also check here for San Diego exam sessions.
CHANGES SINCE APRIL 19, 2022, a $35 FCC fee will apply to applications for Amateur Radio Licenses.
VECs and Volunteer Examiner (VE) teams will not collect the $35 fee at license exam sessions. New and upgrade candidates at an exam session will continue to pay the $15 exam session fee to the ARRL VE team as usual, and pay the new, $35 application fee directly to the FCC by using the CORES FRN Registration system (CORES - Login).
The CORES Login can be found at, https://apps.fcc.gov/cores/userLogin.do
When the FCC receives the examination information from the VEC, it will email a link with payment instructions to each successful candidate who then will have 10 calendar days from the date of the email to pay. After the fee is paid and the FCC has processed an application, examinees will receive a second email from the FCC with a link to their official license or explanation of other action. The link will be good for 30 days.
Update: April 5, 2022, The FCC and ARRL are giving better explanations on who must pay and when. It appears the fee will apply to those testing for the Technician license, and to those who are applying for a vanity call sign, and to all hams who are renewing their license every ten years. Upgrades to General and Extra and administrative updates like change of address are not subject to the fee. I'll update this section when we have a very clearly defined set of rules.
Beginning April 19, 2022, ARRL will cover the one-time $35 application fee for new license candidates younger than 18-years old for tests administered under the ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (ARRL VEC) program. The $35 FCC application fee will be reimbursed after the ARRL VEC receives the completed reimbursement form and the new license has been issued by the FCC. The reimbursement check will be mailed to the fee payer. Also, candidates younger than 18-years old would pay a reduced exam session fee of $5 to the ARRL VEC VE team at the time of the exam. The $5 fee is for all candidates under the age of 18 regardless of the exam level taken. Proof of under 18 status is required at the session
When your fresh call sign arrives, use that to get on a local repeater and introduce yourself. Don't be shy. Everybody was a first time ham once. The polite hams (most of them) will welcome you into the hobby and encourage you to learn how best use your new skills and privileges. Getting connected with local operators in your area will expand your knowledge and use of the radio hobby. Combine your radio skills with outdoor adventure or travel and stay connected with others. The easiest way to blend outdoor activity and radio is with SOTA, Summits On The Air, or POTA, Parks On The Air.
As two examples, both are free to join and they ask you to log the contacts in the website to give credit to the participants. San Diego county has a number of summits that are open to all skill levels, and over a dozen parks listed in the service.
Think about the next level. There are only three tiers of Amateur Radio licenses, each granting you more access to the amateur radio bands, and increasing your opportunity to learn radio technology. Once you have achieved your license, it is yours for life, but the FCC wants you to check n every ten years and prove you still exist. That's one reason you must keep your FCC FRN login secure.
Using the VHF/UHF bands are excellent for local communications. Upgrade to the General and Extra license and take full advantage of the HF bands, and communicate around the world with CW (morse code), side band, or any of the digital modes. Take a look at the current Amateur Radio Band Plan, and see where the licenses are allowed to operate. Upgrading from Technician opens a lot of doors.
*work in progress - November 2022. Add pictures.