I've had a lot of hobbies in my day. I mean that these are things that I enjoy doing just for the enjoyment of doing them. Two stand out in my mind especially, bird watching and ham radio.
Yeah I know, birdwatching makes me a nerd, and ham radio makes me a geek, but what can I say, I yam what I yam!
I want to talk some about amateur radio, especially in light of the current tsunami/earthquake/nuclear meltdown situation in Japan.
First watch this video:
About a contact hours after the tsunami. Here, you hear two radio operators talking about stuff, one in Japan, the other in America. The Japanese operator is glad to talk to someone. My point? When all other communication infrastructure degrades, amateur radio can get through! One of the reasons I became an amateur radio operator is because it can play such a vital communications role in times of emergency. It's also a lot of fun to build antennas, fix radios, build radios from scratch, talk to people all over the world, and just generally explore science.
So what is amateur ('ham') radio? Technically, it's a government mandated service regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. Here's the purpose as outlined in Part 97 of the FCC's rules and regulations:
§97.1 Basis and purpose.-
The rules and regulations in this Part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:
(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
(c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communications and technical phases of the art.
(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.
(e) Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill.
Practically, it's a group of hobbyists dedicated to having fun building, fixing, and using radios to communicate with people both near and far. We stand ready to help establish communications with cut off groups of people, stand ready to accept and pass along messages of hope when disaster strikes close to us, and we like having a good time. A soldiers life is filled with long periods of boredom, followed by brief moments of terror. Hams find a way to not be bored while waiting for the terror.
Many amateur radio operators have become electrical engineers, computer scientists, and other 'nerd' skills. Many of us have done other things with our lives, we are janitors, preachers, broadcast journalists, doctors, policemen, firemen, soldiers, (shudder) lawyers, politicians. Hams come from all walks of life. Even Ted Nugent is a licensed amateur radio operator.
In today's world, it's hard to understand how something like amateur radio can still serve a purpose. Communication infrastructure is everywhere! We all have cellphones, internet access, text messaging, smart phones, satellite phones, anything! Much of this communication infrastructure is interdependent and fragile. With one hurricane/In 2004, my wife and I endured 3 hurricanes while living in Orlando. She was impressed with the fact that while our cellphones only worked every once and a while, I could communicate and get news via my hand-held ham radio. Or consider the case of Gary. I Guarantee you ham radio made a difference to Gary that day.
Ham radio makes a difference in the world today. It's present, whether you see it or not, in every natural, or man made disaster. If you would like to know more about how ham radio helps in emergencies, and find out what it takes to become a ham, visit The ARES page. If ham radio has helped you, or you have a story to share, post a comment! Tell it!
73, (how hams say 'best regards')
DE KG4GVL (DE means "this is", and KG4GVL is my ham radio call sign)