One of my other passions in life is Amateur Radio contesting. Ham radio contesting goes back to the days of Marconi and is more popular today than ever. There are about one million Hams licensed by their federal government in Japan and the same number in the U.S. Canada has about 40,000 licensed hams but about half are considered active.
In some international contests thousands of Amateur Radio operators take to the air for contests that last as little as four hours and often as long as 48 hours. The two-day long contests allow operators to experience all of the propagation conditions that change every 11 years in a solar cycle, every month, every day and sometimes even every hour. Some frequencies work to propagate signals in the daytime and other frequencies are better at night.
Trust me, it can be great fun.
At the end of the contest all of the participating stations file their logs of contacts completed online to a central website and within a short period of time contesters can look up their personal standings.
This past weekend was the annual American Radio Relay League’s Field Day. Field Day is not only a contest but it is also a North American wide demonstration of Amateur Radio operators ability to setup stations under simulated emergency conditions.
Often run by local clubs some operators also setup individual stations and a few run mobile stations capable of global communications.
So for fun, I set up a QRP (very low power) station on a bench at Bronte Harbour here in Oakville and worked Field Day. My transceiver (a receiver and transmitter combined in one box) is small enough to fit into a shirt pocket and my antenna was a single wire launched into a nearby tree using an arborists weighted bean bag (less scary than a bow and arrow or a pressurized potato canon – it’s a long story).
In photo: the LNR blue box is the radio. There’s a small hand-held transceiver above it which thanks to Internet connections at an automated remote Oakville repeater station has global communications capabilities and to the right is a Morse code set of paddles. The green thing is my cell phone.
Using headphones and Morse code I worked about 30 different stations over a few hours of operating thus proving my point that a QRP station can be a viable emergency communications device.
Ham Radio still has a place in this modern world of cellphones and the Internet. In wide-scale disasters such as wildfires, floods, tornados, hurricanes and ice-storms modern technology fails either from being overloaded with calls or from a loss of hydro power.
Hams often volunteer their communications services to such organizations as the Red Cross (which provides shelter and displaced person registration) and the Salvation Army (which provides similar services) during these large-scale disasters.
Morse code with its short forms and overall speed is just as effective for this kind of work as voice and is, in fact, much more efficient thus allowing a 3-watt pocketable radio to work the world under the right conditions.