Saturday, July 02, 2011

Ham Radio "Field Day" 2011

It's an annual event, which happened June 25th this year. PBS did a nice piece about it:

Hamming Up the Airwaves
When a giant tornado devastated Joplin, Mo., earlier this year, it destroyed more than homes, schools, and businesses. It also destroyed a large part of the city's communications infrastructure.

"Hospitals could not communicate, police could not communicate, and the only thing that was working was amateur radio," said Rick Spiegel, a "ham," or amateur radio operator.

I spoke with Spiegel and several of his colleagues on June 25 during the annual American Radio Relay League's Field Day. His group had set up five two-way radio stations in a park in Littleton, Colo., where they operated them for 24 consecutive hours over the weekend, using only battery power. That's how they stay on the air when cell phones and police and fire radio systems have been destroyed.

An estimated 30,000 hams across the country set up transmitters in public places this weekend to show off the emergency communications capabilities of their hobby, and to possibly attract new amateur radio enthusiasts. [...]

Read the whole thing if the topic interests you. But I'm going to print one more excerpt from the end:
[...] In the past, there were significant hurdles to becoming a ham. The radios themselves were expensive. In addition, a license from the Federal Communications Commission required hams to know Morse code, a telegraphic system that dates back to the 1890s. Morse code uses combinations of dots and dashes to represent individual letters of the alphabet, and is transmitted over the airwaves with a telegraph key.

Today a license is still required, but Morse code has been dropped from the exam.


Aspiring amateur radio operators today don't have to be rich, either, Brown said. He said that on eBay, entry-level, hand-held ham radios range from $100 to $300.

Actually, you can buy a NEW hand held transceiver, like the dual band Wouxun KG-UVD1P, for $99.95, plus shipping. I got one and have been using it for a while, and it's been working great. Good value for the money.

I got my technician license with a self-study book, it was fairly easy and enjoyable. There is no age limit, and I've heard of kids as young as 7, even 5, getting their licenses. There are free practice exams on-line, so it really is easier than it used to be. And IMO, it's also FUN.

H.T. to QRZ.COM where I got the link to the article.

Also see:

Radio Communications in a Changing World

Learning Ham Radio; start with a Police Scanner?

The ARRL, my missed opportunity, and my fun new hobby

Oregon Emergency Amateur Radio in Action

No more magic: "Why should I get a ham license just so that I can talk to a bunch of old geezers about their latest heart bypass operations?"

Shortwave Radio Nostalgia for a Sunday

Nostalgia for "tube" radios, a.k.a. "boat anchors"

The convergence of Ham Radio with the Internet



ZZMike said...

The idea that they had to explain what Morse code is, is disappointing. That's one of the thousand things every educated person is supposed to know.

There are advantages to Morse code, mainly technical, but the bottom line is that Morse code can get through where voice cannot.

A perfect example of this is shown in the movie "Independence Day" (which was shown a few days a go at a theater near here).

Chas said...

"That's one of the thousand things every educated person is supposed to know."

I thought so too, Mike. It's amazing how much the younger generation increasingly doesn't know about many things. The standards for what makes a person "educated" seem to be changing very rapidly. And not necessarily for the better.

I've been learning Morse code, not only because it can get through when voice can't, but because you can communicate over very large distances with it, using very little power. It's a kind of challenge that I think is fun.

Chas said...

Oh, I forgot to mention, I did a post a while back about Morse code VS Text Messaging:

It's seems there is some growing interest in it among the younger generation. Some of them want to use it to do text messaging faster. It's believed that a Morse Code Keyer could be used to send text messages over a phone, faster than a phone keypad.

THAT would be an interesting reincarnation of an old technology being used in a new way!

ZZMike said...

It's been a very long time since I learned Morse code, but I do remember that there's a special key that you push from side to side - I think it sends out dots on one side and dashes on the other, and that people would get up to 60 wpm.

Then too, in code, there were (are?) a lot of abbreviations - not the least of which are the "Q" codes. I still use "wx" in notes, for "weather".

It's fascinating to watch the march of technology: ham radio, "CB", cell phones (and now almost everyone is "connected" 24 hours a day with their iPhones; then Morse code to texting.

That Leno clip reminded me of another one (might have been Leno or one of his predecessors) where a guy with an abacus raced a guy with an adding machine. (The abacus won.)

Chas said...

I have one of those side-to-side keys, a Vibroplex made in 1969, that I bought at a local hamfest last year. The sideways motion is supposed to be better for your wrist in the long term, by avoiding repetitive motion injuries that the up and down movement of a straight key can cause.

I haven't learned to use the Vibroplex yet, but it's there to inspire me; I'll get there eventually ;-)