Alfonso Faustino: What is HAM?


What is HAM?

HAM is a global communications network using radio frequencies (RF) to send and receive voice and digital communications over the airwaves.  HAM is similar to your AM/FM radio except your AM/FM radio is one-way communications.

In an emergency situation, HAM is a global communications network that assists society in a catastrophe (man-made (e.g., war) or natural (e.g., earthquake)) when mobile phone (cellular networks) and land-line-phone networks are inoperable.

In a social setting, think of HAM as a room of men, woman, and children getting together on the airwaves talking about stuff EXCEPT religion and politics. (Yes, children can take the FCC HAM test and get their HAM license to talk on the airwaves.)


What does HAM stand for?

Several theories float around in magazines and the Internet about the origins of HAM.

Here are two theories of which I seem to gravitate:

“The word “HAM” as applied to 1908 was the station CALL of the first amateur wireless stations operated by some amateurs of the Harvard Radio Club. They were ALBERT S. HYMAN, BOB ALMY and POOGIE MURRAY.

At first they called their station “HYMAN-ALMY-MURRAY”. Tapping out such a long name in code soon became tiresome and called for a revision. They changed it to “HY-AL-MU,” using the first two letters of each of their names. Early in 1901 some confusion resulted between signals from amateur wireless station “HYALMU” and a Mexican ship named “HYALMO.” They then decided to use only the first letter of each name, and the station CALL became “HAM.” 

The other theory is HAM stands for Helping All Men. I couldn’t find much information on this theory; it was introduced to me by a P25 operator, W2GLD.  I like this theory, too, but we also have women HAM operators; so, I still gravitate towards the first theory.

For these two reasons, I use the term HAM in uppercase to reflect the acronym of the two aforementioned theories, supra; hence, I won’t ever write nor type, ham or Ham.


Why is HAM important?

Without HAM transceivers and technology, you would have not mobile phones today.  Mobile phone originated from HAM technology.  You can research the details of this assertion on your own.

Why use HAM?

In a natural or man-made disaster and/or catastrophe, there is a good chance your mobile phone will not work; because, the mobile phone networks are powered up by electricity.  Also, your land-lines might not work, as well.  The only communications devices that would work are your AM/FM radios and HAM transceivers, which are the same type of communications technology as an AM/FM radio, but, unlike AM/FM radios, a HAM transceiver can receive AND send out radio frequencies (RF).

For example, I was in San Francisco during the 1989 earthquake.  My mobile phone did not work; because, all the mobile networks were down; and, those that were working were restricted to use by the federal and state government agencies for emergency operations facilitating disaster recover and safety.


The utility company that I was working for at the time, moved their communications to HAM communications and their own private RF to communicate with their field technicians to shut off gas for gas leaks and shut power down for power lines that went down.

Civilian HAM operators became communications conduits between utility companies, law enforcement agencies, fire departments, EMR, and Red Cross.  Without the civilian HAM operators, casualties, damages, and malfeasant activities would have been greater during the earthquake.


I recall, while I was in the Marina District, working with SFFD on a gas leak explosion, I heard a civilian talking on his transceiver, directing traffic out of the area with SFPD.  I thought he was one of the team, but he told me, he lived in one of the houses in the Marina and was a civilian HAM operator working with the fire department and police department to communicate updates to the media.

Similar HAM operations took place with hurricane Katrina — your can search that story on your own.

On a social and fun setting, think of walking into a room of people and socializing with them.  You know the way it goes, “Hi, my name is Alfonso…what’s your name?”


Just like a room, when you talk with people, you don’t need their phone number to start a discussion…you just walk in and meet people.  The same thing with HAM, except the room is the airwaves, and instead of walking into a room, you enter the room by using a HAM transceiver.  Instead of a physical presence, your voice becomes your physical presence.

Many times, as an actor needing to lift my spirits after a day of auditions and rejections, I like to get on my HAM transceiver and have a fun conversation to get my spirits up.

One HAM operator was asked, “how did you get into HAM?”


He replied:

After 55 years of marriage, my wife died.  I was sad and felt alone; and, I really didn’t have anyone to talk to.  Sure, I can call my kids and grand-kids, but those are only certain days and certain times of the days; because, they work or go to school.  So, I found out about HAM, and I took my test and got my license…now, anytime…day or night…I can pick up my transceiver and talk to anyone in the world. It makes me happy and gives me someone to talk to.”

Check 6!

/s/ Alfonso Faustino (K6ASF)