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A ham radio is a small radio transceiver popular among amateur radio enthusiasts. Amateur radio began as a popular hobby and ersatz disaster relief service in the 1940s and 1950s in North America, and remained a popular pastime up until the Great War.
Numerous transmitter towers can be found throughout the Capital Wasteland. Despite the passage of time, many of these units are functional. Most broadcast in Morse code, although some broadcast live or recorded loops of audio.
Ham radios are mostly useless and serve no real purpose, bar a few exceptions. They are almost never tuned to any particular signal and just emit static.
Finding a Ham unit stationEdit
Few radio stations are active by default. For whatever reason, most transmitter towers upon which the ham radio stations rely for range have been shut down.
Transmitter towers are easily located in the wasteland. Their tall, spindly structure is easily spotted even when near other wreckage. Most towers have a transformer station either directly at their bases or nearby. Typically, one of the transformers will have a breaker box attached, or one will be mounted in a control cabinet nearby. Throwing the breaker will reactivate the broadcast.
Unlike real radios, the signal received by the player's Pip-Boy 3000 is not broadcast from the above ground tower, but rather from the actual ham radio unit itself. Typically, these transmitters are located nearby in sheltered areas such as drainage cisterns, tunnels, or caves. Finding the transmitter's lair is a matter of simple radio direction-finding.
Begin by walking in a circle around the above ground tower, preferably at a distance of thirty to fifty feet. Note at which points in the circle the signal is clearest and least clear. Begin moving in a line away from the tower at the point where the signal clarity is best. Walk in a zig-zag fashion, revising the route to keep moving towards the clearest signal. When the signal loses all of its static noise and the broadcast is clear, the transmitter's location is nearby. Typically, the entrance to the transmitter station is a manhole cover or other small access point. In many cases, these manholes are tucked close to a cliff face or in a crevasse. Some are drainage culverts under roadways or even manholes built into a road surface. At this point, check the local area map on the Pip-Boy 3000 and you will be able to see the entrance.
While a few stations broadcast in clear audio, most of the ham radio stations in the wasteland broadcast looped Morse code messages. Translated, they follow almost the same pattern without variation:
- CQ CQ CQ DE ## K
This translates as follows:
- CQ - A general non-emergency call, indicating that the station is looking for a reply from any station that can hear it. CQ is a two-letter code that shortens, and is pronounced as, "seek-you."
- DE - DE is Morse shorthand for "this is," and is followed by the station's ID or callsign repeated two or three times..
- ## - This is where the station's ID is broadcast. In the wasteland stations, these codes are always two letters long and correspond to the signal name as identified in the Pip-Boy radio list. Signal Alpha Lima uses ID code AL, while Signal Kilo Bravo uses ID code KB.
- K - A terminal code. K is Morse shorthand for "over," meaning the transmitter will pause and wait for a reply from another station.
Active Capital Wasteland broadcastsEdit
- Signal Alfa Lima (AL)  - In northwest of the Fallout 3 map, at broadcast tower KB5, just west of deathclaw sanctuary
- Signal Echo Foxtrot (EF)  - Near north edge of map, south of Oasis
- Signal Kilo Bravo (KB)  - Also in northwest, from WKML Broadcast Station, a bit southeast of Signal Alpha Lima and far south of Fort Constantine
- Signal Oscar Tango (OT)  - Perhaps the closest to Megaton, head west-northwest to the Jury Street Metro station; it is a little south of it
- Signal Oscar Zulu (OZ)  - In the northeast of the map, a bit southeast of Relay Tower KX-B8-11 and northeast of Temple of the Union.
- Signal Papa November (PN)  - Due west of Megaton near the west edge of the map, at a tower just west of the Charnel House. Southwest of Fort Bannister and northwest of Evergreen Mills.
- Signal Sierra Romeo (SR)  - On west edge of map at broadcast tower KT8, due north of Little Lamplight and northeast of Vault 87
- Signal Sierra Victor (SV)  - In the southwest of the map, southeast of Jocko's Pop & Gas Stop.
- Signal Yankee Bravo (YB)  - In the northeast of the map, just south of Canterbury Commons.
Generally, ham radio stations are only useful in that they broadcast a radio signal and serve as a beacon to lead a player to an otherwise difficult-to-find location. Players cannot affect a ham radio apart from turning the signal on or off. Ham radios are indestructible, with the exception of those found in the Villa police station during the Dead Money add-on. Since all ham radios are set to the off position by default, they can be used as "breadcrumbs" for the player, turning them on to mark where he or she has been.
Only two ham radios have a more significant function in the game.
One is set up as part of the public-address system in the Super-Duper Mart. Raiders using the store as a base use the PA system to alert others in the building.