Radio amateurs have a long and storied history around the world and are often referred to as radio amateurs. Defined as a “duly authorized person interested in radio practice for purely personal purposes and without pecuniary interest (direct or monetary or other similar reward) and differentiated from commercial broadcasting, public safety (such as police or firefighters) or both professional radiocommunication services (such as maritime, aviation and taxis or similar).
But this strict definition belies an important truth, especially in these times of internet addiction so amply demonstrated by the recent Rogers outage. Amateur radio operators are not dependent on the Internet and operate even when all other means of communication have failed. As such, radio amateurs, like the members of the Manitoulin Amateur Radio Club who held their annual general meeting at Little Current’s Low Island Park last weekend, form a voluntary grassroots communications system closely tied to the emergency services. premises in the event of a disaster. As such, they are the unsung heroes of disasters that have yet to occur.
Normally, ham radio operators are a deceptively lonely lot, often sequestered in a hidden back room of the family home, usually a bit older (something they would quite happily improve on if given the opportunity to hire a younger team).
Many have cut their teeth on crystal radio sets once found in the back pages of Popular Mechanics and other hobby magazines, spending hours of relentless concentration wiring tiny components under a magnifying glass only to finally jump for joy then that the buzzing dots and dashes of Morse code could barely be heard – gradually climbing the technological ladder to tiny voices. For many of these pre-digital “nerds”, ham radio operation became a lifelong passion, and many ham radio operators can be identified by the call signs that appear on their license plates. personalized, ship names on their boats floating in the marina or a plethora of T-shirts, coats or baseball caps.
Today’s ham radio sets are as far removed from these early hobby kits as a soapbox racer is from a Formula 1 racing car and just about any operator can argue for hours about the nuances of atmospheric jumps and the influence of sunspots, if you let them. But make no mistake, these seeming relics of a bygone age contain within their skills the ability to connect the world.
Whenever a global disaster, hurricane, typhoon, earthquake, or war engulfs a region, amateur radio operators often become that region’s soul link to the outside world, providing a crucial link for lifesaving rescues and support.
Because of this loner, stuck in the basement/attic, where many ham radio operators practice their skills, they remain out of sight and out of mind for almost all of the general public – but when that time comes – they spring into action like the heroes of the day – and thank goodness for them.
Members of the Manitoulin Amateur Radio Club can sometimes be seen helping to organize parades in island communities during the summer months, when you encounter or see one of these elusive creatures, take a moment to thank them for being them and maybe, if you think you might be interested in learning more about amateur radio, find out how you can get into the hobby. One day, the community may depend on your skills and connections.
Most practitioners are gregarious, sometimes talkative, but don’t be discouraged. One of the most exciting aspects of the hobby is connecting with other radio operators around the world and boasting of rare and distant connections is one of the great joys that everyone proudly shares with their colleagues. That’s what ham radio operators do in those back rooms, attics and basements – connect with people, OG style.