HAM Radio 101

Word of the Day (HAM): What Does HAM Mean in Amateur Radio?

Editor’s Note: CW? SWR? QRM?  Yes, Amateur Radio has its own lingo–and we’ll cover that unique terminology in our daily Word of the Day column.

We’re kicking off our Word of the Day feature with perhaps the most debated word in Amateur Radio—Ham. Its origins remain a topic of ongoing debate. Here are a few theories, from the dubious to the more possible.

  • Some historians contend that Ham derives from landline telegraphers in the early 20th century who would call poor operators “hams,” a reference to being “ham fisted,” or clumsy. At the time, labeling someone a Ham certainly wasn’t a compliment.
  • Ham, defined as an overacting, inferior performer, was the name given by commercial broadcasters to denigrate Amateur operators.
  • In this highly disputed theory, HAM was the call for a wireless station operated by the Harvard Radio Club in 1908. For the sake of brevity, operators Albert Hyman, Bob Almy, and Poogie Murray took the first letters of their last names to create the call HAM. Hyman would later draw attention to the HAM station when testifying before Congress about legislation to curtail Amateur Radio activity. Commercial broadcasters complained that amateur stations, who could pick their own frequencies at the time, were interfering with their operations. The bill imposed crushing licensing fees and requirements on amateur stations. Thus, the station HAM became a symbol of the little guy’s fight against monolithic corporate interests.

Regardless of what theory you subscribe to, Hams today embrace the moniker with pride. We go to local Hamfests, meet every year at the Dayton Hamvention, and tune into Ham Nation so we can share what we all know: As Hams, we’re part of the greatest hobby in the world.

Show off your Ham pride by checking out swag combos from DX Engineering, including ball caps, umbrellas, mugs, clocks and more.


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