The image of a man sitting in a darkened room full of radio equipment that he soldered together himself, clicking Morse code on a telegraph key or speaking into a big microphone to someone half a continent away, is old fashioned. Well, maybe.
Having to use Morse code to communicate with someone half a world away, or talking to them over a microphone, is still possible, but advances in equipment and changes in rules have made using a ham radio a lot easier, Marilynn Jordan said.
Jordan was the guest speaker at the Crestline-Lake Gregory Rotary Club's morning program on July 25, and she spoke to members about how easy it is today to enjoy the amateur radio hobby.
“It's really a lot of fun,” she said. “I've spoken to radio operators in Greenland, Finland and all over South America. Everyone speaks English, so it's very easy for us to talk with other ham radio operators.”
If someone wants to learn Morse code and use a telegraph key they still can, but learning the code made up of a combination of dots and dashes representing letters of the alphabet is no longer a requirement to get a license, she said.
Jordan is a member of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for amateur radio in the United States, the largest organization of radio amateurs in the world.
Before you can get on the air, she said, you need to be licensed and to know the rules to operate legally. U.S. licenses are good for 10 years before renewal and anyone may hold one except a representative of a foreign government.
In the U.S. there are three license classes: technician, general and extra. The technician license is the entry level for hobbyists and gives access to all amateur radio frequencies above 30 megahertz. This allows licensees the ability to communicate locally and most often within North America. It also allows for some limited privileges on "short wave" bands used for international communications.
Jordan said the ARRL publishes the Ham Radio License Manual, and it details the information someone will need to take the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) amateur radio exam.
Aside from having fun talking with other ham radio operators, and making new “electronic” friends in other parts of the country, Jordan said there is an important public service role that amateur radio enthusiasts can provide.
“Sometimes in an emergency the only way to communicate is by radio,” she said.
Many ham radio operators volunteer their time and use ham radio primarily for local public service events such as races, parades, city festivals, etc. Skills learned helping with such things are useful in emergencies when regular local communications such as home telephones and cell phones are not available, according to the ARRL.
There are a few clubs around the Inland Empire, including the San Gorgonio Pass Amateur Radio Club (SPARC).
Jordan also is involved in Rim Family Service's Older Adult Ham Radio Program and the Older Adult Community Services Program.
Jordan said the evenings are the best time to enjoy amateur radio because there's less radio signal interference. “Why you can talk to someone far away, like Canada, is because signals bounce off the ionosphere,” she said. “I can tell by the call sign what country someone is from.”