Ham Radio….It’s really just ham

While the main purpose of this blog is to document my own activities in amateur radio, I do enjoy focusing its attention in an educational manner from time to time. This blog post will be just that…an attempt to provide a little educational value to your reading enjoyment.

If you peruse through amateur radio blogs, amateur radio websites and even amateur radio club websites, newsletters and other publications you will certainly see the term we use to identify our hobby and service written in many ways. Of course the term I’m talking about is the “ham” in ham radio.

Before I go much further (and I do intend to keep this blog posting short), we don’t know a lot about why we are called hams. There are many ideas floating around and most generally agree the true meaning as simply been lost in time. Having said that, the more common idea today is the word may have originally been used to describe a poor operator. This of course was back in those early wireless days when spark was king. This common theory goes on to assume the government, coastal or ship stations may have received interference from early amateur stations and referred to these early amateur stations as hams. It is then believed, not really knowing the word was meant as slang, early amateurs picked it up and began referring to themselves as hams. But remember, this is only a theory.

In todays technical (and not so technical) world we live in we have grown to know many things by an acronym. Just to refresh everyone’s memory. An acronym (credit to Merriam-Webster) is formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term. An example which most will be familiar with is NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations) or how about ABC, NBC and BBC. The acronym (regardless of the number of letters/words) is written and referred to by those letters typically written in upper case.

As I stated, these acronyms are all around us. In my day job, I have to be very careful when I am presenting or teaching to not get carried away with throwing out acronyms as I shouldn’t assume everyone understands their meanings when I start speaking about FAQ, VPN, VoIP, TCP, CRM and ERP.

In the amateur radio hobby we use many acronyms to describe various components of our hobby and service. Some that come to mind are FCC, ARRL, RSGB, SSB, SSTV, PSK, RTTY, VHF, UHF, HF, CRT, LCD, LED, EME, CMOS and MOSFET. I’ll stop there as you get the idea.

The take away and educational point I’m driving home is the word “ham” in ham radio is not an acronym. Simply put, the word is just a word which follows the laws of regular sentence structure. Since it is not an acronym, it’s not necessary to capitalize each letter (e.g. HAM) it is also not necessary to place a period or dot between each letter (e.g. H.A.M.). If you are writing ham radio in a sentence it just follows all the normal rules. Ham would be capitalized if starting a sentence. If not, ham would just be written in lowercase. That really is it.

Of course, nothing bad will happen if you choose not to follow this guidance. But in my opinion, (and others agree) writing it as an acronym or going outside of the rules of normal sentence structure is not correct. This just leads to new hams becoming confused and of course teaching something which just simply isn’t true. The issue just perpetuates itself on down the road. To go back to Merriam-Webster, “perpetuates means to make something, (typically an undesirable situation or an unfounded belief) continue indefinitely.

Until next time….

73 de KD0BIK (Jerry)

Jerry Taylor, KD0BIK, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Colorado, USA. He is the host of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast. Contact him at [email protected].

7 Responses to “Ham Radio….It’s really just ham”

  • Matt W1MST:

    I guess that I just prefer the term amateur radio. 🙂

  • Jerry Taylor - KD0BIK:

    Yep, I do too. 🙂

  • Jerry Taylor - KD0BIK:

    By the way, A very special “thank you” to Hans who reminded me that NATO is not the North America Treaty Organization. Of course I knew that, but sometimes what the mind is thinking, the fingers don’t always follow. I’ve made the correction on my blog, but I don’t think that will automatically make the correction here. It should have stated North Atlantic.

    My apologies. Like I told Hans, I’m not the type of American who believes the world revolves around us. Again, just a simple typo on my part and the correction has been made.

    73 de KD0BIK

  • Len WB6LFH:

    To KD0BIL
    Just wasted a couple of minutes reading this cr*p. So here goes wasting a few more minutes replying.
    I just checked to your website to see how old you are and surprizingly you not that young.
    Anyway the point of my reply is to tell you that most people use the term Amateur Radio not Ham Radio.
    The term Ham radio and nothings capitalized here is to remind you that Ham is a term associated with Amateur. Such as Amateur dramatics – stage terminology etc. It’s likely that some reporter reporting on an Amateur Radio station simply used the term Ham and it stuck. Ham = Amateur and nothing else.
    It’s not HAM etc it’s Ham if you must use the term.
    I hope by not that you have realised that the hobby and many involved with the hobby are anything but amateur.
    The term Ham is really a lazy person’s term for Amateur.
    Don’t use it myself so not an issue.

  • Jerry Taylor - KD0BIK:


    I’m sorry if you feel you have wasted your time reading my blog posting. I looked your callsign up on QRZ and found no results. I also searched the ULS and also found no results. Perhaps you mistyped it.

    Anyway, If you looked at my website along with my podcast website (http://myamateurradio.com) you’ll see that I too pretty much use the term amateur radio to refer to our wonderful hobby. My podcast is something I’ve been doing since 2009. My goal of both the podcast and my blogging efforts is to try to educate and elmer our fellow amateur’s.

    The topic of this blog post was something I’ve talked about on the podcast a few times and it is something I see on an almost daily basis. The point was to help educate on the correct use of the word ham in ham radio. I think you would agree writing it as HAM, H.A.M. is simply incorrect. Of course, as I also said….nothing bad will happen if someone uses it. Just like those who tend to write 73’s instead of 73.

    Thanks for you note. I appreciate you taking the time (even though you feel it to be a waste of time).


  • Andrew, W8FI:

    Not to nit pick, but when I wish a ham 73, those are his best wishes. If his family wants some, that’s 73’s, and since I’m a swell fellow, I send 73’s to everyone!

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