By Christina Whiting
Amateur radio provides the ability to communicate with people around the block, around the world and even in space. Beyond just a hobby for millions of “hams” worldwide, amateur radio operators provide necessary communications during emergency services.
Linked by their interest in wireless communications technologies, hams enjoy lifelong friendships and hands-on technical education that advances radio communications and technical skills.
Individuals from all walks of life are drawn to amateur radio.
“The hobby spans all sorts of interest, including people who love to work with computers, techies who like to build their own radios, individuals who want to talk to people from all over the world, and those who like to work in emergency situations, said Shanley Brown, local amateur radio operator.
In 2011, the American Radio Relay League estimated that two million people around the world are regularly involved with amateur radio, with 830,000 amateur radio stations are located in the Americas, 750,000 in South and East Asia and the Pacific Ocean and 400,000 stations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. According to the QRZ.com database, there are 302 amateur radio operators on the Kenai Peninsula Borough and 58 in Homer.
Hams enjoy radio technology as a hobby that allows them to talk to people from around the world and to be of service when cell phones, landlines, internet service and other communication systems fail.
“This used to be old man’s hobby down in the basement, but today there are a lot of women and young people operating amateur radios too,” Brown said.
Amateur radio operators have provided emergency communications during the space shuttle Columbia explosion, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Boston Marathon and when the Malaysian airline went missing, to name just a few. Locally, operators provided services during the 1964 earthquake and more recently during power outages and flooding.
Shanley Brown has been a ham for 38 years and got her start when she was 12 years old and living in Texas.
“My father wanted me off the party line telephone, so he introduced me to his newly found hobby of ham radio,” she said. “After getting involved in ham radio, my grades in math, science and geography improved because I was learning about the places I was contacting which helped my geography and I was building antennas which required math and science skills.”
Brown recalled talking to man in Poland during Marshall law when she was just 16 years old.
“We only talked for about two minutes because he was in his basement hiding out,” she said.
She once talked to a ham operator who was only six and to an Alaskan woman who was 100 and living in an Assisted Living facility.
Over the years, she has watched the technology evolve.
“You can now run your radio signal through your computer, operate digital Morse code, work with satellites and even bounce signals off the moon,” she said.
The South Peninsula Amateur Radio Club (SPARC) was founded in the early 1980’s and active through the mid 1990’s. The club was re-established this spring and currently has 30 to 35 members and three officers. The club is informal and membership is free, but they are looking into becoming a non-profit club in the future, which would enable them to apply for grants to purchase emergency radio equipment and educational material.
Meetings are held at the Homer Public Library the first Tuesday of the month, from 5:45 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. and are open to the public. During the meetings, members discuss upcoming events, ways to promote their presence in the community, and ways to assist other hams in building antennas and transceivers or repairing or trouble shooting problems with equipment.
SPARC offers classes for individuals interested in getting their Technician, General or Extra license, or people can study on their own. Test sessions are coordinated through the local group and open to everyone. Once the test is completed, application for a call sign can be made.
Last May, 14 locals received their amateur radio operator license through SPARC and five individuals upgraded to a higher level. On a break for the summer, ham operator classes will reconvene again in September.
SPARC hopes to soon be able to provide workshops for participants to learn how to build and install an antenna, use computers with ham radios, set up equipment, tour a member’s ham shack house and work foreign stations.
National amateur radio events include Field Day each June, which is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League. Local clubs compete against one another by setting up equipment, using emergency power in a public place and making contact with other radio operators. In this way, clubs market their presence, club members improve their skills and communities are tested for emergency preparedness.
Other national contests include radio operators competing to make contact with as many other operators as they can. There are special event stations, including Route 66 where operators make contact with designated operators along the Route 66 Highway states and an Original 13 Colonies contest has operators making contact with designated operators in each of the original 13 colonies of the United States.
Marvin Baur got involved in ham radio 30 years ago while living in Arizona and listening to conversations on a scanner. He found an amateur radio class, took the test, got licensed and has been on the air ever since.
“Back then, there were no cell phones and amateur radio was popular for all kinds of events, from parades to snowmobile races and just about anything that required communication,” he said.
Baur has talked to people in 130 countries and has maintained his interest in amateur radio through the years because of the camaraderie of friendship and the opportunity to help out in emergencies.
“It’s amazing how busy ham operators are during emergency situations,” he said. “You don’t necessarily hear a lot about us, but we’re out here.”
For more information on the National Association for Amateur Radio, visit arrl.org. For more information on SPARC and for the schedule of upcoming meetings and trainings, email Shanley Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the South Peninsula Amateur Radio Club on Facebook for updates and announcements.
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