This past Sunday, an Industry Canada amateur radio examiner came to our campus from Kamloops along with two other amateur radio operators from the area. They offered the Canadian Basic amateur radio exam to those who were interested (special thanks to Gary, VE7EM, and Bill, VE7WWW, for helping arrange and administer the exam). In addition, a US amateur licensing team came up for the weekend and offered the American FCC equivalent (special thanks to Carlos, KT7CA; David, KD7ABA; and Nathan, KD6NTE, for administering the US exam). In all, 9 people passed the exams and their licenses have been granted or are still pending.
So, what is amateur radio? In reality, it started back in the late 1800’s when Nikola Tesla, Marconi, and Reginald Fessenden were experimenting with the radiation of radio-frequency (RF) energy. In the purest sense, amateur radio operators (also known as “hams”) are a group of people who experiment with RF energy and technology as a hobby. Many of the inventions and amenities that we enjoy today can be attributed to the work of a group of amateur radio operators many years ago. For example, cellular telephone was originally invented by hams several decades ago. This is just one of many examples of the technology that we’ve been instrumental in creating and proliferating. But, it’s not only the aspect of electronic experimentation that captivates so many people worldwide.
Ham radio is also a service relied on by the government in times of emergency and disaster. For example, when Hurricane Katrina wiped out infrastructure in the Southeastern US in 2005, amateur radio operators immediately responded by providing communications to reunite family members, aid first responders (police, paramedics, and fire departments), and ultimately served as the communications backbone until normal infrastructure was reestablished. What many don’t realize is the fact that the infrastructure we rely on today (cellular networks, land-line telephone, and internet) is very susceptible to overload and disruption during a disaster. In addition to providing services during Hurricane Katrina, a group of dedicated hams provide consistent communications for sailors on the high seas who don’t have another way to communicate long distances. These operators often provide phone patches (connecting a telephone to the radio so that family members or others may communicate with sailors wherever they are in the world), handle message traffic, and deal with emergency situations while acting as a liaison for the Coast Guard. As you can see, emergency communications are a large part of what amateur radio is all about.
Besides experimentation and emergency communications, amateur radio is also a great way to further your education. You have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and learn about their culture and way of life. In addition, it instills a broad and well-rounded knowledge of geography. Another unique opportunity is the ability to communicate with astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Many teachers bring amateur radio into the classroom and allow the students to talk directly to the astronauts and ask them questions about science and life in space as a part of their schooling. The same happens with scientists in the Antarctic. There are many amateur radio operators who are serving as researchers down near the South Pole who I have personally contacted and asked a number of my own questions about life in the cold and their current research projects. These are only a few examples of the educational aspect of amateur radio.
Overall, amateur radio encompasses a variety of different areas from RF experimentation to education and is a fun hobby enjoyed by thousands of people around the world. From an educational perspective, there aren’t many fun hobbies out there that involve almost every school subject out there (science, math, social studies, geography, etc.) that so many people enjoy outside of the school environment.
Christian W. (NA7CW – my amateur radio call sign)