Many readers responded to Burt Fisher’s Letter on Amateur Radio in a previous issue. Below is a sample.
When all else fails
I was disheartened to read Burt Fisher’s disparaging comments about amateur radio in the March 16 Opinion section.
As an active member of the amateur radio community and president of my local amateur radio club, I know that radio amateurs play an important role in serving their communities. Additionally, most hams are dedicated to craftsmanship and continually seek to improve their knowledge, operational skills, and ability to provide emergency communications.
As an example, I would cite the amateur radio response to Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico and destroyed its communications infrastructure.
The American Radio Relay League – the organization that represents the hams – has asked for volunteers to come to the island to help set up and operate emergency communications. A total of 50 hams were sought, but hundreds volunteered. Within days, amateur radio operators had restored vital communication links, providing an invaluable service to aid recovery efforts.
In the case of our own club, we have an agreement to provide emergency backup communications for our local sheriff’s department in the event of their own radio systems failing. We also provide communications support for many community events and first-hand information from the field to the National Weather Service during severe storms.
Fisher wrote that hams no longer advance the state of the art in communications. Perhaps he is unaware of the many new technologies adopted by amateur radio, including a host of revolutionary digital modes that provide reliable communications in marginal conditions.
Regarding his concern that operators do not have generators and backup power sources to use in an emergency, I note that most ham transceivers operate on 12 volts and are easily powered by car batteries, even solar panels. As we like to say, “When all else fails, there is amateur radio.”
Finally, his letter raised the issue of the current licensing of operators. As a volunteer FCC examiner myself, I can tell you that we “VEs” take our jobs very seriously and follow strict rules and regulations when administering licensing exams. Although the entry level exam for the technician license is relatively easy, it also has very limited privileges. It is designed to generate interest in amateur radio, with the goal that those operators are looking to upgrade to the General and Supplemental Amateur Class licenses, both of which require a thorough knowledge of electronics, RF radiation hazards, FCC regulations and more.
Undoubtedly, there are radio amateurs who are not up to the task, but I have found the vast majority of them to be decent, caring people who seek to build on the great heritage of amateur radio. .
–Bryan Jackson, President, East Greenbush (NY) Amateur Radio Association
Necessary and welcome
Yes, there are idiots who give the rest of the hobbyist community a bad name. Many amateurs are taking steps to take these stations off the air.
The FCC has issued monetary forfeitures, such as the $25,000 fine to W6WBJ in 2016, but appears to be powerless to enforce the collection of those fines and get these operators off the air, as they did with others in the early 1970s.
The closure of most monitoring stations such as the one outside Livermore, Calif., is certainly not helping enforcement capacity.
As for wearing vests and interfering with rescuers, it was a cheap shot barely worth printing. As President of the Amateur Radio Club of Alameda, California, I can attest to the fact that not only do many of our members perform emergency network operations almost every night of the week, but they also work with local CERT teams, ensuring quality communication. Our help was deemed necessary and welcome by officials in Oakland and Alameda.
Every June, amateurs hold a nationwide exercise known as Field Day, when we encourage amateurs to establish emergency communications in all kinds of conditions. We use batteries, solar panels, generators, and even hand-cranked generators to keep emergency art prepared. We operate from mountain tops, schools, abandoned buildings and even emergency communications vans.
Outside of Field Day, I’ve personally conducted dozens of portable operations, from mountain tops, hotel rooms, sailboats, and home backyards, not to mention the continuous portable setup I maintain. in Concord, California, where I perfect the art of portable communication on a daily basis.
I hold an Amateur Extra class license (20 words per minute). It was ham radio that largely kept me off the streets and out of trouble with the police during my high school years. As far as radiosport competitions go, I argue that properly conducted, radiosport competitions constitute emergency preparedness training and I have even written many WQ6X competition blogs to that effect.
There is a new breed of young radio amateurs who are not only taking contest activities to the next level, but are developing new technologies to make things work more efficiently.
For over 100 years, many things we take for granted in the broadcasting industry were driven by the amateur radio community, eventually co-opted by commercial interests.
As for the foxes guarding the chicken coop, the volunteer examiners administer the exams only because the FCC has abdicated its responsibility to do so. To my knowledge, the tests performed by the VECs are just as rigorous as the tests administered by the FCC.
– Ron Fitch, WQ6X President, Alameda Amateur Radio Club
I read with disdain the incendiary letter on ham radio. It contained lies that were just waiting to be corrected.
Just because the rest of the ham radio service doesn’t cling to Burt Fisher’s edicts and follow them doesn’t mean they have the right to twist the truth.
First, he must produce the name and call sign of the “five-year-old” who passed one of the amateur radio exams.
Second, he must search for the word “often”. Profanity is probably more common on broadcast radio than on amateur bands. In fairness, both are plagued by hackers.
The vast majority of amateur radio associations work closely with their local, state, and federal emergency management agencies, and are welcomed as important components of any emergency response.
If you were to ask the FCC commissioners about their “successful” programs, the Amateur Radio Volunteer Review Program continues to be one of their best.
Finally, amateur radio remains a fertile training ground for much of the engineering talent available to broadcasters nationwide.
I am surprised that Radio World expressed such an extreme position.
I agree, however, that it is unfortunate that the FCC has discontinued the license of first class radiotelephone operators.
– Dolph Santorine, AD0LF
A darling springboard
I’m chief engineer for a group of 24 commercial radio stations in northeastern Pennsylvania and reaching into New York State.
I was licensed in amateur radio in 1974 as a novice when I was barely out of my teens. I then obtained the general license and the additional class amateur license. I built my first 75 meter band receiver in 1974 from scratch, following a design from the ARRL manual. I etched the circuit board and stuffed it with hand-wound toroidal coils and other components.
I made my first exposure to Morse code with this receiver, working at an amateur station in Winnipeg, Manitoba. From this humble beginning, I continued to build other pieces of ham equipment.
Amateur radio was a stepping stone to a lifelong career in telecommunications. I then obtained the second class radiotelephone license and then the first class radiotelephone licence. Eventually, I earned NARTE certification as an EMC engineer and ran an NVLAP-accredited, FCC-listed EMC test lab. When that lab closed nearly 20 years ago, I started working in broadcast engineering.
Amateur radio has certainly achieved one of its stated goals: to encourage the growth of wireless experimentation and self-study. It is unfortunate that the author of the letter appears to ignore the vast amount of educational material published by the Amateur Radio Relay League and the encouragement it provides in experimenting with and using spectrum-efficient modes of communication. These are used by amateur radio operators around the world.
We recently advertised a job opportunity for an Assistant Chief Engineer. The only qualified candidate, whom we eventually hired, is a licensed amateur radio operator.
Love for the practice and art of radio should be encouraged in every way possible, including amateur radio, for the health of the broadcasting industry.
– Craig R. Seelig, WA3ZCR