The hobby of amateur radio can be both exciting and fun, however getting started on your ham radio adventure can be a real challenge. There are different bands to consider, literally hundreds of radios to choose from, and now even digital radio to get involved with. All of this can be a little overwhelming and I've made this guide in order to get new hams "on the air" with as little confusion as possible.
The best place to start out in amateur radio is on the VHF or UHF bands. Most of the activity on these higher frequencies is centred around repeaters. Repeaters can best be thought of, for simplicities sake, as two radios connected together. Repeaters receive on one frequency while simultaneously transmitting on another. Because repeaters are most often located on mountaintops they can dramatically increase range - often allowing a handheld radio to talk to others across town. Most repeaters are located on 2 meters (144 - 148 MHz) or .70 meters (440 - 448 MHz) and are usually active with hams at all times of the day thus increasing your chances of getting a contact.
Because repeaters transmit and receive on separate frequencies programming your radio to operate correctly can be a bit of a challenge. The first thing to understand is that when repeater frequencies are listed what is being referred to is the OUTPUT frequency, the frequency that you listen to. The input frequency is usually .6 MHz off either up or down. For example the main repeater in Victoria is on 146.840 MHz. To listen to the repeater you want your radio set to listen to 146.84 and transmit on 146.24. The offset is fairly easy to program and your radio's instruction manual can show you how it's done.
The other thing you need to program into your radio is the tone setting of your repeater. It is common for amateur radio repeaters to use sub audible tones in order to minimize interference on the repeater. Most mobile and handheld radios are capable of transmitting these tones so all you have to do is look up the tone for your local repeater and set it according to the instruction manual included with your transceiver.
Getting going with amateur radio can be both an exciting and frightening experience. Remember to ask for help if you need it as hams are some of the friendliest people around.