The Thrill of wireless

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--- VU3PEN dt JAN-2019

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Call sign heard round the world Central South Dakota ham radio is more than a hobby

It was the missionary’s lifeline in the deepest jungles, an affordable contact between military members and their families, and a relief during natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. Even today one orbits the Earth on the International Space Station.
And though its popularity has waned with the proliferation of the Internet and cell phones, the ham radio is still around and – at least in some circles – a necessity.
 “I see in the ham radio something foundational,” said Robert Bogart, president of the Pierre Amateur Radio Club.
The club is a thriving community of 20-plus active amateur radio enthusiasts or “hams” in the Pierre and Fort Pierre area who meet monthly to discuss all things amateur radio.
Dave Melhoff is one of those hams. Most days he’ll spend an average of an hour on his radio checking into scheduled gathering, or “nets.” He, like many, also spends time listening for someone to say “CQ” – radio lingo for “I’ll talk to anyone.” Those conversations can last just enough to trade locations and signal strengths reports or longer, he said
“Sometimes you have a chit chat and sometimes you move on to the next guy,” Melhoff said.
Club members have CQ’ed operators all over the world, in countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Japan, Taiwan, Russia, and New Zealand, just to name a few.
Member Jim Zahradnicek even boasts that he has talked with hams in every single country, including some that no longer exist.
In addition to these individual contacts, each year the club joins in on International Field Day, a worldwide competition to make as many contacts as possible in 24 hours.
On the flip side, Bogart said pinging an operator in South Dakota is actually quite a treat for hams living elsewhere because of how few licenses there are in the state.
He said the hobby can have broad appeal, an argument backed up by the myriad of reasons club members turned toward amateur radio.
John Opp said he became interested in the hobby for the emergency service aspect. In particular was weather spotting, where hams stake out a position around town and send in real time updates to weather services.
Amateur radio operators are often called on during times of emergencies, mainly helping coordinate efforts and communications from shelters. The Pierre club was utilized during last year’s flood, with eight operators helping with traffic control and their equipment acting as a repeater for county radios.
Opp pointed to a recent BBC News article about the response to Hurricane Sandy that referred to amateur radio as “the ultimate backup.”
“With so many amateur radios around it’s hard to knock them all out,” he said.
Julie Brudy said the camaraderie is what hooked her. She and her husband became best friends with enthusiasts in England over the radio. After moving to Pierre three years ago without knowing anybody, the hobby became a way to know people in the area.
Greg Hall joked that he just fell in with wrong crowd – engineers – and they turned him off citizens band radio and toward ham radio.
Despite harkening back to older days, modern technology has also crept into the hobby.
Many enthusiasts are connecting their radios to computers, operating over the Internet and using satellites to broadcast worldwide. It’s even possible now to bounce ultra high frequency and very high frequency signals off the moon.
Melhoff described it as a wholesome hobby that is only as expensive as you want it to be. Someone can spend $1,000 or $25,000 for a decent set, he said.
He admits not enough young people are getting into amateur radio because there are too many distractions, such as cell phones. It’s not dying, he said, but it will be holding its own for awhile. What the hobby’s future is, Melhoff can’t say.
“Amateur radio was Dad’s hobby, you know?” he said.
However, Allen Pitts, the former president of the American Radio Relay League, the national association for amateur radio, said in the last few years amateur radio has grown incredibly.
Pitts said there are two groups that make up the vast majority of new hams, according to ARRL proctors who conduct proficiency exams for the FCC.
The first group is the retiring baby boomers, in their late 50s or early 60s. They had careers and families, but now are looking for a quality, inexpensive hobby, Pitt said.
The second is those in their early 20s who are getting involved mainly for the emergency contact aspect. He said this is a continuation of a trend that has happened since Hurricane Katrina showed the value of hams.
“Where amateur radio was holding down the fort along the Gulf Coast, and even the regular emergency radio was gone,” Pitts said.

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