Introduction to Amateur Radio

Course Description

Amateur radio is a pursuit that encompasses equal parts technology, communication, and public safety. It began in the US with the Radio Act of 1912, which guaranteed use of the electromagnetic spectrum to the people, provided they demonstrated the requisite technical competence. These privileges have persisted to the present day, with a vibrant global community of radio amateurs (hams) utilizing the spectrum to tinker and experiment with wireless communications for satellites, drone control, low-power communication, radio astronomy, and so on!

This course will introduce students to the history, art, and science of radio with emphasis on hands-on demonstrations and in-class projects, including soldering a low-power FM transmitter and building a directional antenna. Students will also self-study to pass an amateur radio licensing exam administered on campus, which unlocks the electromagnetic spectrum for personal, non-commercial use. Radio service for public safety is tightly woven into the cultural fabric of the Buggy tradition at Carnegie Mellon, and becoming licensed is the first step to getting involved!

Topics covered include:

  • Radio signal fundamentals
  • Basic electronics
  • Antennas
  • Radio wave propagation
  • Radio equipment
  • Norms and culture of amateur radio communication

Operating regulations and safety Anyone interested in becoming a licensed amateur radio user is welcome regardless of major or prior background!


Tom Zajdel (AI6CU)
Hamerschlag Hall A210




The reference used for this class is the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual. Lectures will primarily provide context for self-study.

Grading Criteria

This course is 3 units graded P/N. To pass the course 7 points must be earned by completing various assignments. Not all assignments are required, so you may pick the most interesting way for you to engage with the class.

  • Get Licensed or Upgrade License (5-7 points)
  • Shack Night QSO (1 point)
  • Scotty Net Check-in (1 point)
  • Reflection (1 point)
  • Buggy Net (2 points)

Spring 2023 Schedule (Tentative, subject to change/shuffling depending on weather)

Week Day Date Topic Demo Reference
1 W 18-Jan What is Amateur Radio? Short Wave Listening Chapter 1
2 W 25-Jan Signal Fundamentals FLDIGI Chapter 2
3 W 1-Feb Electricity, Components, and Circuits   Chapter 3
4 W 8-Feb Project: FM Transmitter Build Soldering  
5 W 15-Feb Radio Equipment UV-5R Handheld Transceiver Chapter 5
6 W 22-Feb Antennas and Feedlines Tuning Chapter 4
7 W 1-Mar Propagation   Chapter 4
8 W 15-Mar Rules and Norms of Ham Radio In-Class Net Chapters 6-8
9 W 22-Mar Licensing Exam in WEH 6403, 6 pm    
10 W 29-Mar Project: Yagi-Uda Build    
11 W 5-Apr Field Day    
12 W 12-Apr The Art of CW    
13 W 19-Apr Working Satellites    
14 W 26-Apr Commercial wireless: WiFi, 5G, and beyond