How to be a Geek – Part 2 – Ham Radio

Part of my geekiness evolved from a long involvement in Amateur (Ham) Radio. It’s a lot of fun, provides excellent technical experience, and drops one right in the middle of helping others in need.

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(Yes, there is a ham radio station on the International Space Station. Many astronauts are ham radio operators.)

For the uninitiated, ham radio involves the use of various radios, antennas and other technology to contact other ham radio operators around the world – and in space – as a technical challenge and a way to spread good will and camaraderie. It also happens that ham radio provides a means for emergency communications in all kinds of situations.

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(Picture from when I had hair. I built my first ham station – remember Heathkit?)

I got involved with ham radio long, long, ago. I started with an old Hallicrafters short-wave receiver (S-38B) in the 1960’s – listening to international broadcast stations from all over the world – including the Soviet Union, China, and many more. I collected QSL cards – colorful confirmation cards that radio hobbyists exchange with each other to acknowledge contact. My attempt to get a QSL card from the Chinese international broadcaster resulted in a large box of communist propaganda arriving in the mail – not exactly what I wanted!

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(A 1950’s vintage S-38B – my first radio)

My first ham radio license was earned while I was in junior high and through the years was upgraded to an “Advanced Class” which is what I currently hold. My “call” is WB4SPA.

Some might wonder if ham radio is a dying hobby – what with all of the computer and internet technology available today. But the fact is, ham radio licenses are at an all-time high – probably due to the removal of the morse-code requirement in the license tests and the fact that modern technology has made ham radio equipment less expensive (at least to start).

While I’m not nearly as active as I used to be, owing to work, family, and other commitments, I still try to stay involved. Besides the excitement of making contact with others around the world and keeping my skills sharp, emergency preparedness is a motivation too. If you look at any major disaster anywhere in the world, the first communications are always from ham radio operators. When TV, radio, cellphone, etc. facilities fail or are destroyed, ham radio still works. In my years I’ve handled a good bit of “traffic” from disaster sites, passing messages to authorities or to families worried about the health and welfare of loved ones. It’s a good and important service that ham radio provides for the benefit of all.

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(With an ability to quickly bring up world-wide communications in a disaster, ham radio plays a vital emergency role.)

If you want to learn more about ham radio, feel free to contact me – or visit http://www.arrl.org

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