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An amateur radio operator

An amateur radio operator is someone who uses equipment at an amateur radio station to engage in two-way personal communications with other amateur operators on radio frequencies assigned to the amateur radio service. Amateur radio operators have been granted an amateur radio license by a governmental regulatory authority after passing an examination on applicable regulations, electronics, radio theory, and radio operation. 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 (like "ham actor") by operators in commercial and professional radio communities, and dates to wired telegraphy.[2] The word was subsequently adopted by amateur radio operators.



Country Number of amateur
radio operators
% population Year of
  United States 801,424 0.248 2016 [3]
  Japan 435,581 0.343 2015 [4]
  Thailand 176,278 0.275 2006 [5]
  Germany 94,491 0.11 2016 [6]
  Canada 69,183 0.201 2011 [3]
  Republic of China 68,692 0.296 1999 [5]
  Spain 58,700 0.127 1999 [5]
  United Kingdom 58,426 0.094 2000 [5]
  South Korea 42,632 0.082 2012 [7]
  Russia 38,000 0.026 1993 [5]
  Brazil 32,053 0.016 1997 [5]
  Italy 30,000 0.049 1993 [5]
  Indonesia 27,815 0.011 1997 [5]
  France 14,160 0.02 2013 [5]
  Ukraine 17,265 0.037 2000 [5]
  Argentina 16,889 0.042 1999 [5]
  Poland 16,000 0.041 2000 [5]
  Australia 15,328 0.067 2000 [5]
  India 15,679 0.001 2000 [5]
  Malaysia 10,509 0.0004 2016 [5]
  Denmark 8,668 0.156 2012 [8]
  Slovenia 6,500 0.317 2000 [5]
  South Africa 6,000 0.012 1994 [5]
  Austria 5,967 0.068 2016 [9]
  Norway 5,302 0.106 2000 [5]
  Finland 5,000 0.090 2016 [10]
  Romania 3,527 0.018 2017 [11]

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. The top five countries by percentage of the population are Japan, Slovenia, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand. 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 is predominantly male. In China, 12% of amateur radio operators are women,[12] while approximately 15% of amateur radio operators in the United States are women.[13] 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. Sometimes the wife of a ham operator is called a YF (wife). Although these codes are derived from English language abbreviations, their use is common among amateur radio operators worldwide.


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[citation needed], the average age of amateur radio operators is quite high. In some countries, the average age is over 80 years old[citation needed], with most amateur radio operators earning their license in their 40s or 50s.[citation needed]

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.[14] 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.[15]

Silent KeyEdit

When referring to a person, the phrase Silent Key and its abbreviation SK indicates an amateur radio operator who is deceased.[16] The procedural signal "SK" (or "VA") has historically been used in Morse code as the last signal sent from a station before ending operation,[17] usually just before shutting off the transmitter. Since this was the last signal received by other operators, the code was adopted to refer to any amateur radio operator who is deceased, regardless of whether they were known to have used telegraphy in their communications.



  1. ^ Silver, H Ward (23 April 2004). Ham Radio for Dummies. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7645-5987-7. OCLC 55092631.
  2. ^ Hall, L. C. (January 1902). "Telegraph Talk and Talkers". McClure's Magazine. Vol. 18 no. 3. p. 230-231.
  3. ^ a b "Hamdata Callsign Server". Archived from the original on 21 March 2016. Retrieved 26 March 2016.
  4. ^ "JARL News. Amateur radio stations. 2015". Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Status Summary of Radio Amateurs & Amateur Stations of the World". International Amateur Radio Union ( Archived from the original on 28 June 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2007.
  6. ^ Bundesnetzagentur. Retrieved: 2019[1]
  7. ^ "Triennial Report from KARL". Retrieved 2012-11-04.
  8. ^ IT & Telestyrelsen Frekvensregister "IT & Telestyrelsen - Frekvensregister". Retrieved 11 January 2012.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ "Rufzeichenliste österreichischer Amateurfunkstellen" (PDF). Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  10. ^ "Mitä radioamatööritoiminta on?". Retrieved 6 March 2016.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "ANCOM Callbook Radioamatori". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  12. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 6 March 2006. Retrieved 2 June 2006.
  13. ^ Harker, Kenneth E (15 March 2005). "A Study of Amateur Radio Gender Demographics". Archived from the original on 23 February 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2007.
  14. ^ "The ARRL Amateur Radio Education & Technology Program". Archived from the original on 25 June 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2007.
  15. ^ "All about JOTA". September 2006. Archived from the original on 9 May 2008. Retrieved 30 April 2008.
  16. ^ "Reporting a Silent Key". Amateur Radio Relay League. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  17. ^ "CW Operating Aids". AC6V. Retrieved 6 January 2017.