Written by 8:30 pm Survival Views: [tptn_views]

So, What Does the Ham in Ham Radio Stand For?

Sometimes, you possibly can’t help but wonder how some things got their name. Porcupines. Balloons. Ham radio. What do you even consider if you imagine a ham radio? When I used to be a teenager, I all the time imagined a bit cartoon pig sitting there flipping dials while wearing a headset.

baofeng gt 3 handheld ham radio
the Baofeng gt 3 handheld ham radio

Ham radio has been around for a really very long time, and it’s showing no signs of going away anytime soon. Now’s a very good time to get into it for those who haven’t already. But just what does the ham in ham radio stand for, anyway?

Ham” within the context of radio is a synonym for amateur radio, referring to each the style of radio itself and the operators thereof. Ham is not an acronym and does not stand for anything despite many stories and legends on the web on the contrary.

Surprise, surprise! I all the time expected ham to face for something considering how acronyms are part and parcel of radio operations and most radio operators, amateur or skilled, appear to be incredibly fluent in them.

Believe it or not, though, ham isn’t an acronym in any respect, however the story of how amateur radio got here to be known as ham radio is loads more fascinating. You’ll need to hear it, so grab your headset and we’ll get going…

So “Ham” Isn’t an Acronym?

No. Ham shouldn’t be an acronym, and it never was in reference to radio. Not in point of fact, despite some persistent legends. And before you ask, it isn’t a “demoted” acronym (anacronym) either, like laser or sonar.

An anacronym is what you get when an acronym gets used a lot that it mainly just gets changed into an actual, regular word, and lots of people don’t even know that it originally existed as an acronym and even what it stood for.

For instance, using laser for example, the unique acronym was LASER, standing for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”. What a mouthful!

But back to radios, ham wasn’t an acronym to start with. It’s all the time just been… ham!

The Use of “Ham” in Radio Parlance First Started as a Pejorative

If you ought to drill all the way down to the origins of ham in reference to radio, you’ve got to return. Way back to the start! I’m talking the turn of the twentieth century and even before when the transmission of signals via telegraphs and radio was still relatively young science.

Unskilled operators, those that were incompetent, or those that were careless were said to be hams, a loan-term that might be applied to anyone in any variety of other situations where carelessness would cause harm, delay, loss, and even injury.

This was particularly pertinent to radio because way back to the Eighteen Eighties communications unions and trade groups decried using shoddy ham operators and the fly-by-night schools that turned out great numbers of such those that just couldn’t do the job right.

These unions disparagingly referred to those institutions of “learning” as ham factories.

Hams, Plugs and Lids

In a way, ham was only a general-purpose insult, but one which by 1920 was becoming increasingly more closely linked with communications and radio particularly.

Other terms for unskilled radio operators, linemen, switchboard operators and similar employees were plug and lid.

Both were mainly synonymous with ham when utilized in this context, and again referred to those that were incompetent, careless, complacent and ultimately incapable of doing the job.

If it helps, have you ever ever heard the term ham-fisted before? It mainly means to mess things up by doing a crappy job, and typically through a scarcity of delicacy or tact. You can see where “ham” got here from within the annals of insults!

“Hamming” Up a Channel Was Akin to the First Spam!

Believe it or not, the pejorative use of pork within the context of radio operations was further cemented within the Forties, specifically in a January issue of the APCO Bulletin, which made reference to amateur radio stations clogging police radio frequencies with unauthorized transmissions that interfered with official police use.

The term that the publication used to consult with this early type of “spamming” a channel with unwanted, relentless, and annoying communications? Hamming!

So, for those who’ve been maintaining, by this point ham was used derogatorily within the context of radio operation for nearly 50 years even by this point!

In Time, Ham Turned right into a Benign Term for Amateur Radio Ops

As is commonly the case, insults sometimes lose their sting and the terms are accepted, even embraced, after which repackaged and repurposed as something good or harmless.

As the a long time rolled on, all the way in which as much as today, the term ham was increasingly used to consult with amateur radio generally, each the concept, the rules, and the hardware, but additionally to the those that operated them- ham operators, or ham ops.

You might think this was something of an overnight decision, as if these roguish radio mavericks finally just outlasted or won over their naysayers, but that wasn’t really the case.

It’s more a case of cultural perfusion and a generous dose of memetic mutation that led to this already pervasive, common term sticking around and easily losing its negative connotation. It became a useful label in this manner, and ever since ham has endured.

The Alleged Ham Radio Acronym

Of course, this text wouldn’t be complete and not using a summary investigation and dismissal of the alleged ham acronyms and other sources that I alluded to up above to start with.

Loads of these make sense, and a number of them are plausible, even fun, but they’re just not true with regards to the term “ham” regarding radio usage.

Home Amateur Mechanic

Home Amateur Mechanic was a magazine that, amongst other things, extensively covered amateur radio operation and technology.

If you are taking the primary letter of every word within the name of the magazine, it spells HAM, and this is alleged to be where the erstwhile acronym got here from. Very plausible, but just not true as discussed above. Busted!

Hammarlund Manufacturing Company Products

A outstanding manufacturer of radio and other electronic components and certainly one of the United States’ oldest and longest-lasting, Hammarlund was founded in 1910 and later went out of business entirely in 1973.

Considering that they did indeed manufacture these products, an easy abbreviation of the name gives us “Ham” and that makes it a probable inspiration and even source for the term “Ham op”, as in “Hammarlund operator”.

This, again, though plausible is just not true and it’s easily disproven: although Hammarlund was founded in 1910, they didn’t start making dedicated radio products and components until the mid-Nineteen Twenties, and by that point ham as we comprehend it was already in use and circulating. Busted!


My personal favorite theory, but sadly one other one which just isn’t true, is that “HAM” is an acronym derived from the last names of three crucially vital pioneers in radio science…

The three were:

  • Heinrich Rudolph-Hertz, the German physicist who proved the existence of electromagnetic waves using Maxwell’s equations,
  • Edward Armstrong, the American electrical engineer who developed FM radio,
  • and Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the primary practical wireless telegraph and credited inventor of the radio.

For the record, I actually, really like this one and it’s definitely poetic in a way. But again, a review of history shows it to be bu-bu-busted: Armstrong had not yet made his critical contribution to the sphere as he was still an unknown student in highschool when the term ham was already being bandied about within the context of radio.

Corruption of “Amateur”

Yet one other totally plausible and appealing explanation for the origin of ham is that it’s a phonetic corruption of “amateur”.

If someone were to loosely and quickly say the word amateur, there may be a definite but soft and short H sound at the start. If you were then to clip off that consonant, you get h’am.

In an identical vein, some people make a case that amateur radio might more properly be called “‘am radio” in shorthand parlance, but because this could be confusing with actual AM radio people popped the H on there to make it distinct (ham radio) while still getting the purpose across.

Bottom line? This is recursive reasoning at best and has no basis in point of fact for all the explanations we discussed. Totally busted!

Harvard Hyman-Almy-Murray Radio

And finally, we come to the whopper of all of them. This tale has been circulated because the late Forties, and it’s ostensibly an underdog success story that is bound to tug in your patriotic heartstrings as an American, and it’s much more fitting that it might need given ham radio its name.

The story goes that sometime around 1911 there was an amateur radio station arrange at Harvard University, call sign HAM; H-A-M. The call sign was derived from the last names of the three students at Harvard that ran it, Albert Hyman, Bob Almy and Reggie Murray.

The tale continues that around this time the US Congress was about handy over total control and dominion over the radio airwaves to the military, and only a fiery speech against it delivered to Congress by Hyman stopped them from acting and saved civilian amateur radio perpetually after. And, cue the epilogue, civilian radio operators were from then on called “hams” of their honor.

What a story! The problem is that none of it’s true. There was not a ham radio station called HAM at Harvard during this time, and though the Harvard students did exist, the timetables in the story were completely different and the speech to Congress just didn’t occur. This one’s a heartbreaker, nevertheless it is 100% busted!

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