Each year, amateur radio operators around the country simulate establishing communications after a totally devastating storm. They go to a field, park, parking lot, or wherever and starting this morning will set up a high-power communications system able to connect with almost anywhere. Antennas will be strung from trees, power supplied by generators, and in a tent or under the roof of a park shelter will be a number of transceivers, with each connected to a computer, an antenna, and power from a generator, solar cells, portable wind turbine, but not normally the electric grid. At 2:00 PM EDST, they will begin contacting other stations, working around the clock until Sunday, after which everything is removed as though they never had been there.
It’s easy to have confidence in our smartphones, internet, etc., but when disaster strikes, the demand gets so high that the overloaded systems can crash. That’s why Amateur Radio played an important role in Hurricanes Katrina and Matthew, and Superstorm Sandy; when Greensburg, Kansas and Joplin, Missouri were devastated by a tornado.
Today we test our readiness and then try to improve any shortfalls so we can be ready when you need us.
AMATEUR (HAM) RADIO AND EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS
Whether it’s a natural disaster like a storm or an earthquake, an industrial fire or explosion or even a terrorist act, suddenly the ability to reliably communicate becomes a problem. Amateur radio operators provide communication support to the community, often using their own equipment, and always at no cost—that’s why it’s called the amateur radio service.
The largest disaster response by US amateur radio operators was during Hurricane Katrina. More than a thousand ham operators from all over the U.S. converged on the Gulf Coast.
Subsequent Congressional hearings highlighted the Amateur Radio response as one of the few examples of what went right in the disaster relief effort.
There are about 750,000 ham radio operators licensed today in the United States—more than at any other time. Hams can choose which methods of communication appeal to them—voice, television, over 60 computerized data modes, and yes, even Morse code.
With an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in our schools, amateur radio shows what happens when you take STEM out of the classroom and into the real world.
If you are interested in amateur radio or want more information about emergency communications go to http://w4car.org, http://www.arrl.org, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
AMATEUR RADIO—AS HIGH TECH AS IT GETS
Amateur radio operators—often called “hams”— pass a test after which they can design, build, and modify their equipment, transmit with up to 1,500 watts (as compared to 4 watts for Citizens Band); and to have access to a wide range of frequencies to communicate across town or across the globe.
The first amateur radio satellite, OSCAR 1 (Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) was launched in 1961. Over the years, nearly 100 satellites have been launched by piggybacking them to a commercial satellite launch. Today there are 12 operational amateur radio satellites, many built by students as a class project, including one that was built by students at a grade school.
The International Space Station has two amateur radio stations—one Russian and one American; both are used for recreation and the astronauts schedule contacts with schools throughout the world to help kids get excited about STEM. On occasion, the amateur radio station has acted as a backup to the regular communications equipment. Obviously, many of the astronauts from all countries are licensed ham radio operators.
Interesting Facts about Amateur Radio
- It’s called “The Amateur Radio Service” because amateur operators cannot be paid for their services.
- The first radio operators were telegraphers who left their railroad stations and went to sea. Because radios used a spark gap, which could cause a fire, the radio room was a separate structure constructed on the deck of the ship and called the “radio shack.”
- No one knows why they’re called “hams.” Some believe one of the first amateurs used the call sign “HAM;” others believe professional radio operators used it to show their unhappiness at hobbyists using “their” radio waves.
- After the sinking of the Titanic, amateur radio operators were directed to monitor for distress calls from ships at sea.
- Learning Morse code was a requirement for a ham license for many years. Originally it was because telegraphy was the only type of signal ANY radio could send or receive. The requirement continued for decades because ships in distress still sent “S-O-S” by Morse. After the US Coast Guard stopped monitoring for Morse code, the requirement for amateurs to learn the code was removed from license requirements. However, many hams like to work CW (continuous wave—the technical term) because contacts can be made around the world with very little power—as low as a fraction of a watt.
- Every male with an amateur radio license is referred to as an “old man” or OM, regardless of age.
- Every female with an amateur radio license is called a “Young Lady” or YL, again, regardless of age.
- Wives of hams who are not licensed are called XYLs or “ex-young lady.”
- Husbands of hams who are not licensed have no special title; they just tend to be ignored.
When using telegraphy (CW), common expressions often are sent in a special shorthand.
- Some are abbreviated, such as TNX or TKS for “thanks.”
- Some numbers have meanings; 73 means “Best regards,” and is often used at the end of a contact the way “Sincerely,” might be used at the end of a letter.
- Three letter groups, beginning with a Q but without a following U are another form. “QSY?” means, “Shall I change frequency?” Without the question mark it means, “I am changing frequency.” Naturally, these are referred to as Q-Signals.
- QSL means “I am acknowledging receipt [of your message].” Hams traditionally send a special postcard to stations with whom they’ve made contact; these are called QSL cards.
- SK, when sent together, means that the station is going to shut down for the day. Deceased hams are referred to as silent (telegraph) keys with their call signs followed by (SK).
- Guglielmo Marconi made the first transmission across the Atlantic in 1901, and soon individuals were experimenting on their own. By 1912 the United States was licensing amateur radio operators.
- Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim invented the first portable, fully automatic machine gun. His son, Hiram Percy Maxim was more interested in the goodwill generated by international communications. He founded the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the hobby’s national association.
- Some of the more interesting techniques include bouncing radio signals off the moon and back to earth or using the aurora borealis to reflect radio waves.
- Radio waves with short wavelengths, and therefore higher frequencies tend to travel according to line of sight. Longer wavelengths can reflect off the ionosphere, then the earth to make long distance communications possible. The ionosphere changes between day and night, and in conjunction with the eleven-year sunspot cycle. This is one reason why so many different frequencies are needed and used.
- Amateur Radio has its own patron saint- Saint Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan friar whose call sign was SP3RN. Early in the Second World War he used his radio to inform the rest of the world as to what the Germans were doing to Poland. He hid refugees (including 2,000 Jews) in his monastery, was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. After three prisoners attempted to escape, the Germans chose 10 at random to be starved to death. One of the men blurted out, “My wife! My children!” and Father Kolbe voluntarily took his place.
Many interesting people are, or have been ham radio operators:
- Walter Cronkite KB2GSD (SK)—newscaster
- Tim Allen KK6OTD–actor
- Dick Rutan KB6LQS and Jeana Yeager KB6LWR who made the first non-stop,
non-refueled aircraft flight around the world.
- Patty Loveless KD4WUJ—country singer
- James Lance Bass KG4UYY—’N SYNC pop singer
- Bob Moog K2AMH(SK)—inventor of the Moog synthesizer
- Joe Walsh WB6ACU—guitarist with The Eagles
- Howard Hughes W5CY(SK)—billionaire, aviator
- Nolan Bushnell W7DUK—inventor and founder of Atari
- Yuri Gagarin UA1LO(SK)—first man in space
- David Packard 9DRV(SK)—co-founder of Hewlett Packard
- Pricilla Presley N6YOS—actress, wife of Elvis Presley
- Garry Shandling KD6OY (SK)—comedian, actor
- Plus a long list of astronauts, kings, princes, sheikhs, and heads of states