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.
Few radio stations are active by default. Through 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 aboveground 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 aboveground 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. In the Republic of Dave capitol building, if you turn on the ham radio on Dave`s desk all NPCs will become hostile but this might just be a glitch.
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 call, indicating that the station is looking for a reply. In Morse code, the CQ call can be followed by a station ID if the sender is looking for a specific station, or the CQ can be repeated three times indicating a reply from any station is acceptable. CQ is a two-letter code that shortens, and is pronounced as, "seek-you."
- DE - This is a label informing the listening station that the next sequence will be the transmitting station's ID.
- ## - 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.
- Signal Alpha 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.
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.
In the Operation: Anchorage DLC, Chinese technicians use ham radios to call for backup.