Saturday, November 22, 2008

The American Radio Relay League, my missed opportunity, and my fun new hobby

As I've been reading up on Ham Radio (a.k.a. Amateur Radio), a hobby I've always wanted to pursue, I've found out a lot of interesting things. One of the more surprising things I discovered was, that the American Radio Relay League was founded in 1914 by Hiram Percy Maxim of Hartford, CT. Hiram was inspired to start the ARRL thus:
[...] In 1914, Hiram P. Maxim of Hartford, Connecticut, was a prominent businessman, engineer, and inventor (notably of the Maxim Silencer). He was also an active radio amateur, with one of the best-equipped stations in the Hartford area. One night in April he attempted to send a message to another ham in Springfield, Massachusetts. He had a one-kilowatt station (call 1WH), and Springfield was only 30 miles away, well within his normal range. He was unable to make contact, and remembering that he knew another ham in Windsor Locks, about halfway, he contacted the Windsor Locks ham, and asked him to relay the message, which was successfully done. This was not the first time a message had been relayed, but it set Maxim to thinking. At that time, a great deal, perhaps most of amateur radio activity consisted of sending and receiving messages, not only between amateurs, but involving the general public as well. But at that time the maximum reliable range of a station was a few hundred miles or less, and so Maxim realized that a formally organized relay system would be of tremendous use to amateurs.[7]

Maxim was a member of the Radio Club of Hartford, and he presented a plan for the organization of an "American Radio Relay League" (he had already decided on the name) to the club at its April 1914 meeting. The club agreed to sponsor the development of such an organization. [...]

The the ARRL outgrew the Hartford Radio Club and split off as a separate entity... there is quite a bit more history of it's evolution and struggles which I found interesting, including difficulties with the US government in WWI and WWII. So different from nowadays, where they seem to have reached harmonious accord.

The ARRL's current headquarters are in Newington CT, just south of Hartford. The ARRL today:
[...] The ARRL represents the interests of amateur radio operators before federal regulatory bodies, provides technical advice and assistance to amateur radio enthusiasts, and supports a number of educational programs throughout the country. The ARRL has approximately 152,000 members. In addition to members in the US, the organization claims over 7,000 members in other countries. The ARRL publishes many books and a monthly membership journal called QST.

The ARRL is the primary representative organization of amateur radio operators to the US government. It performs this function by lobbying the US Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. The ARRL is also the international secretariat of the International Amateur Radio Union, which performs a similar role internationally, advocating for amateur radio interests before the International Telecommunications Union and the World Administrative Radio Conferences. [...]

The irony is, I've long had an interest in Amateur Radio, and I grew up in Hartford county, near the ARRL headquaters, which is just a short drive from where I lived, and it's often open to visitors. I could have visited at any time, but I didn't even know about it. I love all that history, and it all started practically in my own back yard. But I missed it, I only find out about it decades later, when I'm living on the other side of the continent. Talk about missed opportunities! Darn.

W1AW, the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Station

There is plenty to explore though, at the ARRL website at: It's a terrific resource that I keep going back to refer to again and again.

Presently, I'm studying to get my Technician's license. That test has 35 multiple choice questions. I believe you have to get 26 of the 35 correct in order to pass. Here are two on-line test sites I've been practicing with:

Ham Academy Practice Test
This site offers exam study notes, and a selection of questions. When you choose an answer, it will tell you right away whether it is right or wrong. It will keep score of your wrong answers, and tell you if you pass or fail at the end. Practice Exam
This site gives you 35 questions, and shows you the right and wrong answers and your score only after you have completed the 35 questions.

I've been practicing and passed the above two tests for the first time last night, but I'm going to practice more before taking the real exam. You can learn more about the exam process here:

What Amateur Radio licenses are available?

The Morse Code Requirement has been dropped from the tests. That makes it much easier than it used to be. But I think I would like to learn to use it anyway, eventually. There are computer programs that can help you learn it. You can often transmit much farther with Radio Morse code (CW) and with very little power, than you can with voice broadcasts. It could be fun to learn and use.

I think this going to be a great hobby, and I'm looking forward to it.

Related Links:

Morse code - Amateur Radio

Oregon Emergency Amateur Radio in Action

The convergence of Ham Radio with the Internet

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