(The following was reproduced from the Amateur Radio Relay League's Web site at http://www.arrl.org/ham-radio-faq-s)
Amateur Radio Frequently Asked Questions:
Who are Amateur Radio operators or Hams?
Anyone you know could be an Amateur Radio operator or "ham" --no matter what age, gender or physical ability. From ages 8 to 80, people in many countries of the world can have fun as radio amateurs. If you've had fun with CB radio or trying new things with your computer, wait till you see what you can do with ham radio!
What Can I Do With Ham Radio?
You can communicate from the top of a mountain, your home or behind the wheel of your car. You can take radio wherever you go! In times of disaster, when regular communications channels fail, hams can swing into action assisting emergency communications efforts and working with public service agencies. At other times, you can talk to Shuttle astronauts or bounce signals off the moon. You can use telegraphy, voice, digital, even images in communication with other hams. Know any other hobby with so much to offer?
Why Do I need A License?
Although the main purpose of the hobby is fun, it is called the "Amateur Radio Service" because it also has a serious face. The FCC created the "Service" to fill the need for a pool of experts who could provide backup emergency communications in times of need. In addition, the FCC acknowledged the ability of the hobby to advance communication and technical knowledge, and enhance international goodwill.
What will this cost me?
A basic new handheld radio can cost about the same as an inexpensive 19-inch color TV. Flea market bargains can cost a lot less. A new tabletop multi-band unit for your home radio shack can cost about the same as the PC you're reading this on. Materials to get you started are relatively inexpensive, and the exam fee you'll pay when you're ready to test is nominal.
Who can help me out?
Amateur Radio clubs are located all over the US and are eager to help the newcomer get started.
When was Amateur Radio started?
Nobody knows when Amateur Radio operators were first called "hams," but we do know that Amateur Radio is as old as the history of radio itself. In 1912, Congress passed the first laws regulating radio transmissions in the US. By 1914, amateur experimenters were communicating nationwide, and setting up a system to relay messages from coast to coast (that's how we got our name, American Radio Relay League, ARRL, for short).
I don't have a lot of time. Can I still enjoy the hobby?
You bet! The beauty of ham radio is it can fit the time, space, and budget that YOU decide is right for you. It's got that low stress, high fun ratio that many busy people seek in their off-hours. It can also be great family fun or a solitary pleasure.