Amateur Radio Works When The Unthinkable Happens.

I t was a dark and stormy night. The trees bent and swayed to the will of the crazed wind and the rain came smashing down against the window pane. The National Weather Service had advised that adverse conditions were on the way; however, this appeared to be very serious. Suddenly, a huge gust of wind crossed some power wires nearby and a bright blue flash illuminated the entire neighborhood. Seconds later the lights went out all over that side of town. The cell phone antenna receive bars drop from full to nothing. Nothing worked! How do I contact people? How do I contact the emergency services? When all else fails, ham radio works!

Since the turn of the century people have been using amateur, or “ham” radio for emergency and other kinds of communication. Hams are best known for jumping to action during times of bad weather, floods, earthquakes, or any other type of adverse condition.  They even use their own equipment to help their communities in times of need. A national organization for emergency communication is called The Amateur Radio Emergency Service, (A.R.E.S.).  The storm of 2007 battered the Northwest part of Oregon with 120 mph winds and torrential rain that knocked out all power and communication to the region. About 200 ham radio operators, according to computerworld.com, volunteered their time and equipment to provide vital communication for the well being of the area. Emergency communications, however, isn’t the only use for ham radio. With ham radio, you can talk to people across the street, across the state, across the country, or across the world. Some of the most interesting people are hams, and interesting people have interesting conversations. Among people who are hams are singer/song writer Ronnie Milsap, pop singer Lance Bass from ‘N SYNC, country singer Patty Loveless, Joe Walsh of The Eagles, Greg Walden, Oregon Congressman, and Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. Anyone can be a ham. There is no age limit. All anyone needs to do is take a test for a Federal Communication Commission license. There are people you may know who are hams. Marcene Olson is the safety and loss prevention manager at LBCC. She is also a ham. Her call sign is KF7PGK. Mindy McCall is clerical specialist III at LBCC safety and loss prevention office. Her call sign is KF7PGH. Marcene Olson came up with the Idea of getting volunteers at LBCC to take classes for ham radio licenses through the Linn County Amateur Radio Services, (L.C.A.R.E.S.) Group. More information on the local ARES group is at qsl.net/lcares/.

Marcene obtained her technician license about 10 months ago and is involved with emergency preparedness and response in the community. She says ham radio is an addition to social media and there is good potential for learning. Like anything else, there is a bad side to the hobby. Expense and some neighborhoods don’t allow antennas. The greatest appeal, according to Marcene, is helping others during times of need and the nostalgic feel of being a radio operator.   Marcene is not the only person in the area who enjoys being a licensed radio operator, Steve, in Corvallis, has found pleasure as well. Steve Hilt, KC7NUD, has been a ham for 15 years.

“I spent my youth listening to shortwave broadcasts and listening to my uncle talk on his ham radio, which made me want to join the fun”, Steve said. His allure to the hobby is hams can communicate in any condition. It gives him piece of mind. “A lot of the technology of today was because of the help of hams”, Steve continued. He also enjoys the comradery of the amateur radio society. The bad side: cost and, like anywhere else, there are always personality conflicts. Tony Masvidal lives in Albany and has been a ham for 46 years. In high school he was confused on whether to take wood shop or electronics. About that time the 1964 Alaskan Earthquake occurred and he heard a lot of broadcasts from Alaska calling for help or giving reports. Tony knew then what he wanted. Today Tony is the president of the Linn County Amateur Radio Emergency Services Group and helps in neighborhood watch programs. He really enjoys the hobby and likes helping people. Not just anyone can be an amateur radio operator. Citizens band, (C.B.) radios and ham radios are not the same. Anyone can have and operate a C.B. No license is required; however, ham radios require a license and some responsibility for use. This helps to ensure a better quality of radio operators.

There are currently three levels of ham radio licenses, technician, general and extra class. Some radio clubs offer classes and testing sessions. Many clubs have “elmers”, or ham tutors. These people are experienced operators who help new hams with the hobby. There are several different ways a licensed operator can communicate on the ham “bands”.  Many entry level licenced people, or “techs”, talk on 2 meter, (VHF) and 440 centimeter, (UHF) repeaters. This allows for mainly local or regional communications.

High Frequency, (HF) communication requires the operator to hold a general level license. HF allows for communication around the country and around the world. For most hams this level is sufficient, however, to many operators this is not enough.

The extra class license allows the operator to go anywhere in the amateur radio frequency spectrum. Along with voice there are several modes of communication in ham radio like Morse code, digital, radio teletype, PSK, which is a form of digital, and television. As mentioned before amateur radio can be expensive, as much as $10,000 for one “base” radio plus coax ,antenna, and equipment , but as little as $100 for a 2 meter handie-talkie,(HT) radio. Like most things, it depends how much effort you want to put in it. Next to a cell phone, a hand held ham radio can be cheaper. After the initial cost, except for the cost of electricity, it’s free to operate. There are different ways to look in to ham radio. The American Radio Relay League,(ARRL), is a national organization that helps hams and people who want to get into ham radio. The website, arrl.org, is an excellent place for information and study material, as well as gordonwestradioschool.com. Both of these sites are very good source of information when the “bug” bites.

The amateur radio operators of today is not your grampa’s type of operator. Hams have launched in the 21st century with style and vigor. To check out what amateur radio is like today go to youtu.be/varHL752Odk  73. Note to reader: The author is a general class licenced amateur radio operator. Call sign KL2BO.

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