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An amateur radio operator is an individual who typically uses equipment at an amateur radio station to engage in two-way personal communications with other similar individuals on radio frequencies assigned to the amateur radio service. Amateur radio operators have been granted an amateur radio license by a governmental regulatory authority. As a component of their license, Amateur radio operators are assigned a call sign that they use to identify themselves during communication. There are about three million amateur radio operators worldwide.

Amateur radio operators are also known as radio amateurs or hams. The term 'ham' as a nickname for amateur radio operators originated in a pejorative usage by operators in commercial and professional radio communities. The term "ham" should not be capitalized because it is not an acronym for anything (improper use includes referencing ham radio as "doing HAM".) The word was subsequently welcomed by amateur radio operators, and it stuck. An amateur radio operator who has died is referred to by other amateur radio operators as a silent key.

The biggest appeal to amateur radio, besides its potential for making contacts worldwide, is that it relies on no infrastructure. Unlike other modern technologies like cellular telephone networks, which can be rendered inoperable on a local or regional scale by a natural disaster, amateur radio operators can remain on the air and can set up and operate anywhere. No matter how technology evolves, amateur radio is still the one area of communications that does not rely on any kind of "network" that can be compromised by man or nature.


Country Number of amateur

radio operators
Year of

1,296,059 1999
722,330 2007
141,241 1999
141,000 2000
75,262 2007
68,692 1999
63,547 2007
58,700 1999
58,426 2000
38,000 1993
32,053 1997
30,000 1993
27,815 1997
20,000 2008
18,500 1997
17,265 2000
16,889 1999
16,000 2000
10,679 2000
6,000 1994
5,302 2000
Few governments maintain detailed demographic statistics of their amateur radio operator populations, aside from recording the total number of licensed operators. The majority of amateur radio operators worldwide reside in Japanmarker, the United Statesmarker, Thailandmarker, South Koreamarker, and the nations of Europe. Only the governments of Yemenmarker and North Koreamarker currently prohibit their citizens from becoming amateur radio operators. In some countries, acquiring an amateur radio license is difficult because of the bureaucratic processes or fees that place access to a license out of reach for most citizens. Most nations permit foreign nationals to earn an amateur radio license, but very few amateur radio operators are licensed in multiple countries.


In the vast majority of countries, the population of amateur radio operators are predominantly male. In the United States, approximately 15% of amateur radio operators are women. In Chinamarker, 12% of amateur radio operators are women. The Young Ladies Radio League is an international organization of female amateur radio operators.

A male amateur radio operator can be referred to as an OM, an abbreviation used in Morse code telegraphy for "old man", regardless of the operator's age. A female amateur radio operator can be referred to as a YL, from the abbreviation used for "young lady", regardless of the operator's age. XYL was once used by amateur radio operators to refer to an unlicensed woman, usually the wife of a male amateur radio operator; today, the term has come to mean any female spouse of an amateur radio operator, licensed or not. Although these codes are derived from English language abbreviations, their use is common among amateur radio operators worldwide. Incidentally, the most common language heard in the HF amateur bands (the bands below 30MHz that support worldwide communications) is English.


In most countries there is no minimum age requirement to earn an amateur radio license and become an amateur radio operator. Although the number of amateur radio operators in many countries increases from year to year , the average age of amateur radio operators is quite high. In some countries, the average age is over 60 years old, with most amateur radio operators earning their license in their 40s or 50s.

Some national radio societies have responded to this by developing programs specifically to encourage youth participation in amateur radio, such as the American Radio Relay League's Amateur Radio Education and Technology Program. The World Wide Young Contesters organization promotes youth involvement, particularly amongst Europeans, in competitive radio contesting. A strong tie also exists between the amateur radio community and the Scouting movement to introduce radio technology to youth. WOSM's annual Jamboree On The Air is Scouting's largest activity, with a half million Scouts and Guides speaking with each other using amateur radio each October.


Image:HamRadioGirl.jpg|An amateur radio operatorImage:Dj1yfk in sweden.jpg|An operator running High Speed TelegraphyImage:MM3OXB.jpg|An operator working HF


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