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HAM radio: Old-time ‘social media’ still important

November 8th, 2012 Posted in Arts and Life

By Dani Hayes

RIVER HEIGHTS – If the power goes out and cell phones fail, amateur (HAM) radios will be one of the only communication outlets available.

The city of River Heights is sponsoring a free HAM radio class to help prepare those interested in taking the licensing test to become amateur radio technicians. The class meets Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. at the River Heights city office building. The class started Nov. 27 and the last class is on Dec. 1.

“The purpose of HAM radio is to train radio operators, whether it’s for the military or emergency personnel. It gives you the ability to communicate anywhere, anytime,” said Quentin Gardener, the class’s teacher. Besides using the radio professionally, those taking the class can also use the skill as a hobby.

“There’s a mix of people in the class,” he said. “Half of them are here for hobby; the other half are here to be prepared during an emergency situation.”

Gardener said that even though many get a license for professional use, it is important to use the skill as a hobby to gain more experience.

“That’s how people learn how to do it,” he said. “If you come to class, get licensed and don’t use it for four years, you’re not going to know what it all means. But if you use it as a hobby you gain more knowledge. You’ll know how to use it when you need to be able to use it.”

There are many ways people casually use a HAM radio. Gardener said he enjoyed connecting with people around the world.

“You can communicate with people from other countries,” he said. “Most conversations only last a minute or two ‘Hi. How you doing? What’s the weather outside?’ That’s most of the conversations but sometimes they can get quite detailed. There are some people who play chess over the radio.”

There are also some HAM radio groups that organize contests to help people practice.

“In some contests you can score points for making contact with people in certain parts in the world,” Gardener said. “It’s like any other hobby. They use it as a hobby to learn more about it. They use it as social media. They use it to pass a message if people live in areas where they have no other communication. They use it for emergency response. They use it for everything.”

For Gardener, he became interested in HAM radio “for the fun of it.”

“I’ve always fiddled with technical things, played with technical things, therefore I like technical things,” he said. “All my other technical hobbies are quite expensive but with HAM radio, once when you buy the basic equipment, it doesn’t cost you anything.”

HAM radios are operated primarily by battery power which makes them seem more reliable to some.

“My wife is concerned the cell phones won’t be working during a disaster and the HAM radio will always be. You can talk to anybody in the world. It’s more reliable than a cell phone,” said Dean Samuels, a River Heights resident who is taking the class. He said he got roped into the class by his wife who wants to become licensed. Samuels has worked with many kinds of communication including with NASA for 13 years.

“I had an advanced class license and let it lapse,” he said. “I heard about the class on a River Heights newsletter. My wife saw it and wanted to come. I actually have been meaning to do this, to reinstate my license but I never got around to it. The class has been great.”

The class meets six times, with its primary objective to help prepare students to take the Federal Communications Commission test to become a licensed amateur radio technician. There are laws laid down by the FCC for radio users so there is more organization on air, said Gardener.

“They have laws and licenses because people can interfere with other countries, broadcast stations and other services,” he said. “The rules governing HAM radio are only a dozen long. In order to understand the use of HAM radio, you must understand the equipment. This class is to understand the basics so you know what people are talking about over the air.”


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