What is Amateur Radio ?
It is many different things to the individual, millions of people throughout the world who enjoy this very diverse communications hobby.
Below is a summary of how it began and has kept with the times to remain an enjoyable leisure time activity. In Canada an amateur radio licence (Certificate) is granted for life, there is no renewal requirement also there is no age requirement, radio operators can be of any age, and knowledge of Morse code is no longer required. There are three classes or levels of Certificate’s (No longer Licence) “Certificate of Proficiency of Amateur Radio” Basic, Basic with Honours, Advanced and also Morse Code 5 w.p.m endorsement, it is not required to have the Morse Code endorsement to operate using Morse Code.
Basic : The holder of an Amateur Radio Operator Certificate with Basic Qualification is limited to basically bands above 30mhz (Code endorsement with Basic allows you to operate below 30mhz) and a transmit limit of 250 Watts (DC)
Basic with Honours: To achieve “Basic with Honours” is receiving a mark of 80% or more on a Basic Exam, or you may chose to do a min 5 words per minute Morse code exam. (Note: Morse code is not a requirement for any class of Amateur Radio Licence in Canada.)
Advanced: Allows a more technical approach to Amateur Radio, where you are permitted to install and operate repeaters, run higher power design and build transmitters, along with more technical privileges.
Who are Amateur Radio Operators?
They are ordinary citizens, including some of your neighbours or work colleagues, and people all over the world. Are Amateur Radio Operators – also known as Ham Radio Operators.
One of the marvelous things about the hobby is that radio signals don’t stop at country borders – being a Amateur Radio Operator is like having an international passport.
You can visit the world on the airwaves, make casual acquaintances or life-long friendships, without even leaving home. Many long-time Amateur Radio Operators will tell you that some of their best friends are people they have never met in person.
Around the world Amateur Radio Operators have set up their own transmitting and receiving stations at home, in their cars, and even use hand-held radios to keep in touch while on foot. The friends they make could be someone across town, in a far-flung exotic country, or even astronauts on the International Space Station or Space Shuttle missions who are Amateur Radio Operators also!
How do Amateur Radio Operators contact each other?
When the hobby began around the turn of the 19th century the only form of communication radio amateurs (they were then known as amateur wireless experimenters) was Morse code, the same method used by the telegraph.
This form of communication has survived to still be in use today – and has become an international language enabling people who can’t speak the same language, to communicate.
Up until the 1920’s wireless telegraphy was the only way to transmit and receive information on the airwaves. But Amateur Radio Operators pioneered voice communications in the mid-1920s at the time when broadcast stations began.
Although the transmission and reception techniques have changed over the years with technical developments, voice communication remains the major method of communicating on the amateur bands.
In times of natural disasters, Amateur Radio Operators throughout the world provide support communications, and sometimes the only communications immediately after a disaster.
The radio systems of emergency services are also extremely busy, and additional or supplementary communication can be readily provided by radio amateurs using their own equipment, and skills.
The linking of computers to Amateur Radio has become popular. Often it is done using the sound card on a PC and software. There are several digital operating modes, each having its particular use. Mostly they provide keyboard communications.
If you would like to know more, do some research on FT8, PSK31, WSJT. The use of digitized voice via Amateur Radio is also expected to become common in the near future. The IRLP (internet radio linking project) and EchoLink are linking Amateur Radios and Repeaters through the internet.
The sending of pictures via radio was being done by Amateur Radio Operators long before television began.
This interesting aspect of Amateur Radio has several variations, from single-frame pictures through to full-colour real-time video that can be received on a domestic television receiver with UHF capabilities. There is also software available that permits fax to be sent over the radio.
Soon after the launch by the former Soviet Union of Sputnik 1, the world’s first man-made orbiting satellite, Amateur Radio Operators entered the space age with the OSCAR (Orbiting Spacecraft Carrying Amateur Radio) series of satellites.
The tradition of designing and building amateur satellites continues today. They are being launched as a piggyback load when major communications satellites are put into orbit. International contacts are possible by sending a signal to a satellite and having it relayed back to earth providing communications over many thousands of kilometers.
The method used to determine, at a distance, the source of a transmitted signal, are broadly as direction finding (DF), and have application in navigation systems.
But Amateur Radio Operators also effectively use DF when they take part in a popular activity called Foxhunting. This involves locating within a time limit a small hidden transmitter.
In some countries DFing is called Radio Sport, and involves a lot of footwork over reasonably lengthy courses, and is likened to a mix of DFing and another sport – orienteering.
Foxhunts can also be held over relatively short courses requiring Hounds to do all of their DFing while on foot.
Foxhunting basically uses a directional beam antenna, both vehicle mounted or out-the-window, and receiver to DF the general hiding spot of the Fox.
QRP (Low Power)
QRP is low power transmitting usually 5 watts or less, some Amateur Radio Operators challenge themselves or their equipment to make contact overseas with as little transmit power as possible, sometimes with less than 1 watt.
This is the world of “QRP” or Low Power Operation, where the goal is to reach as far as you can with as little transmitter power as possible.
Why? Yes, it seems strange when 100 watts is the norm, to want to transmit with five watts or much less – milliwatts. But it is the challenge of making your antenna as efficient a radiator as possible.
You may also like the challenge of making your own radios. QRP is a challenge to succeed with limited resources, and for many of its devotees it satisfies their desire to experiment, learn, and have fun.
And there’s much more!
Contests, awards, QSLing, eyeball-QSOs, Hamventions, special event stations, skills that can be used at work or school, and the list goes on, currently the production crew of the TV Show “Last Man Standing” (KA6LMS) operate and make contact with others with the actual Amateur Radio that is used on the set of the TV Show.