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The ARRL Book

I am, and have always been, a rather voracious reader. I have trouble falling asleep without reading for at least a few minutes after getting into bed. When I was much younger, a book could keep me up for several hours. When I first became interested in ham radio, the book of my dreams was The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications1.

At that time, the book was the size of an extra-large paperback but several inches thick. It covered everything from the basics of electricity to amplitude and frequency modulation, and it even included plans for building your own CW and SSB transmitters and receivers. It has images of historical equipment, stories about ham radio culture, and references for nearly everything associated with the hobby.

I spent many nights reading through it. A new edition is released every year, and it includes updates to the information, such as new license requirements, band changes, or even new trends in equipment and devices.

This year, having gotten the bug to get back into ham radio, I ordered the 2014 edition (link is above). It was, to say the least, a bit overwhelming. It’s more than twice as large as the ones I recalled from the 1970’s, and it weighs 5.6 pounds! It’s the size of a full sheet of paper (i.e., double the dimensions of the old one) and is still several inches thick. If you get a copy of this book, I strongly urge that you do not try to read it in bed; if you happen to doze off and it drops, it’s like getting hit by a stack of five iPads: that is, it will hurt a lot.

It’s still an amazing book, and it still exhaustively covers everything(!) you need to know to get involved in amateur radio. Why, then, is it so much larger than the old ones?

The answer is quite simple: digital. When I was learning about radio in the 1970’s, digital electronics was a new thing that some hams experimented with on the fringes of the hobby. There was some very simple integrated circuits, used mostly for clocks and oscillators. These days, however, digital electronics has overwhelmed the traditional analog circuitry and become the de facto standard for most radio implementations. It’s very rare to find a radio these days that uses mostly analog circuitry, and all but impossible to find one that has no digital components. The rise of digital technology, coupled with the fact that 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ARRL, is what gives this book its bulk.2

I imagine that there’s enough material in this single book to represent four or more semesters of an electrical engineering degree; it’s a wonderful reference. If you have any interest at all in ham radio, I’d encourage you to get a copy.

Just find a nice, sturdy table and a good chair with which to read it.


Update: I learned today that the CD-ROM that comes with the book contains the entire book’s contents in PDF format. This means that I can read it on my iPad and don’t have to worry about a concussion.


  1. The ARRL is the American Radio Relay League, the oldest and best known amateur radio organization in the United States. [return]
  2. Note that I do not expect it to be significantly smaller next year. [return]
Glen Campbell
May 5, 2014