I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve had this question on my mind for some time. I suppose I wanted to let it simmer for a while before posting my thoughts on the issue.
Just to summarize, in order to transmit on any amateur radio frequency in the USA, you must have a valid license issued by the FCC. You must pass an exam that demonstrates an understanding of various electronics, antenna theory, and frequency allocations. There are multiple licenses that have increasingly difficult exams, but reward you with additional frequencies to operate on. The most basic amateur radio license in the US is called the ‘Technician’ license, which is designed primarily for VHF and UHF radio operations. The exam does not require an engineering degree in electronics, or any similar genius-level knowledge,  in fact I believe anyone spending an hour a night using the online practice exams can easily pass the test in less than two weeks of study time.
I’m getting off topic, so here’s the thing, when you pass the exam and get your license or ‘ticket’ as most Hams call them, you are entered into a public database at the FCC, and anyone in the world, can anonymously search for, and find you.. I mean, your actual home address.
Not good for most folks, and certainly not good for folks that value privacy.
So the question is ‘Are Amateur Radio Licenses worth it?’
In my opinion, yes they are.
Here’s why:
As a licensed Ham, you’ve studied a bit, and will very likely want to use your radio equipment, you’ll learn how to use it, how to properly communicate, and you’ll probably make some friends and meet some very like-minded people during your time on the radio.
As an unlicensed Radio Operator, you’re probably going to limit your communications to SHTF situations, and it’s very likely that you will not be proficient, you will not fully understand how to operate your radio equipment,(ermm… what’s a PL tone?) you may not even have an antenna deployed (dipole? is that like a fishing pole?), SHTF is not the time to figure out your radio equipment, you’ll have plenty of other things to figure out.
I’m a licensed radio operator, I’ve learned how to operate my radio equipment to a modest degree (there’s much more I could stand to learn, absolutely) and my radio communications are always kept very ‘grey’ in that I don’t talk about prepping, or give others any indication what my mindset is like. It’s enjoyable enough to make a contact with a distant station, and just pass a few words. I can do this in my house, in my vehicle, or in the middle of nowhere miles deep in the woods, and I can say without a doubt that I would not be able to do those things, had I not invested the time to learn, get my ticket, and put many hours into learning, and operating my radio gear.
To sum it up, I don’t care if you take the time to get licensed and legally operate, but I can promise you that you’ll be better prepared to use that radio gear you’ve got stashed away if you make similar investments.