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An amateur radio operator

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.[1]

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 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.



Country Number of amateur
radio operators
Year of
 Japan 1,296,059 1999 [2]
 United States 722,330 2007 [3]
 Thailand 141,241 1999 [2]
 South Korea 141,000 2000 [2]
 Germany 75,262 2007 [4]
 Republic of China 68,692 1999 [2]
 Canada 63,547 2007 [3]
 Spain 58,700 1999 [2]
 United Kingdom 58,426 2000 [2]
 Russia 38,000 1993 [2]
 Brazil 32,053 1997 [2]
 Italy 30,000 1993 [2]
 Indonesia 27,815 1997 [2]
 People's Republic of China 20,000 2008 [5]
 France 18,500 1997 [2]
 Ukraine 17,265 2000 [2]
 Argentina 16,889 1999 [2]
 Poland 16,000 2000 [2]
 India 10,679 2000 [2]
 South Africa 6,000 1994 [2]
 Norway 5,302 2000 [2]

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 Japan, the United States, Thailand, South Korea, and the nations of Europe. Only the governments of Yemen and North Korea 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.[6] In China, 12% of amateur radio operators are women.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]



  1. ^ Silver, H Ward (2004-04-23). Ham Radio for Dummies. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7645-5987-7. OCLC 55092631.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Status Summary of Radio Amateurs & Amateur Stations of the World". International Amateur Radio Union ( Retrieved 2007-07-13.  
  3. ^ a b "Hamdata Database [Presentation of FCC license data"]. Retrieved 2007-08-07.  
  4. ^ Bundesnetzagentur, cited by "Licencestatistic for DL". Retrieved 2008-06-18.  
  5. ^ "A Brief Introduction to CRSA and Amateur Radio in the Mainland of China". Retrieved 2008-05-06.  
  6. ^ Harker, Kenneth E (2005-03-15). "A Study of Amateur Radio Gender Demographics". Retrieved 2007-07-13.  
  7. ^ Chinese Radio Sports Association (2004). "The Current Status of Amateur Radio in the Mainland of China". Proceedings of the International Amateur Radio Union's Region 3 Twelfth Regional Conference. Document No. 04/XII/057.  
  8. ^ "The ARRL Amateur Radio Education & Technology Program". Retrieved 2007-07-13.  
  9. ^ "All about JOTA". September 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-30.  

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