Ham radio perfect mixture of old/new technologies
Jim Woodbridge sits at his amateur radio work station. Woodbridge is a member of the Rose City Amateur Radio Club and pitches in with emergency communications whenever he is needed.
“CQ, CQ, the Palmer Station, Antarctica. This is Victor Echo six Mike Oscar doing a radio demonstration for the local Camrose Canadian newspaper,” said Camrose resident Jim Woodbridge, using an astonishing combination of ham radio and computer technology to reach all the way to the frozen continent on the other side of the globe.
In this digital age, there may be those who are surprised to hear that ham radio skills are not consigned to a distant past when the Hardy Boys went around solving crimes in their friend Chet’s jalopy.
The Rose City Amateur Radio Club is real and thriving, made up of about 22 members, some of whom know how to build radios from scratch, but who nevertheless have embraced the leaps and bounds in radio technology over the last half century.
Moreover, their unique communications expertise can make all the difference in times of emergency.
“One of the things we do is keep an emergency radio in the county office, so if we’re called on for emergency communications we have a base station set up there,” said club vice-president Gary Horne. “The city also has our names should they need any help.”
Amateur radio operators are often called in to assist in the co-ordination of emergency services during disasters like the Pine Lake tornado, the BVJ storm, the floods in southern Alberta or the Slave Lake fire.
At 9 a.m on the second Saturday of every month, the Rose City Club members meet for breakfast at the Norsemen Inn and catch up on the latest developments in the radio world. The majority are licenced amateur radio operators, and they hail from all around Camrose County and beyond.
“Technology has changed tremendously,” said club treasurer Ed Kusalik. “A lot of these people, when we got into it, tubes were the majority of the equipment. Now with digital technology and the advent of the transistor in ’58, it changed everything.”
Smartphone and iPads now play a role. There are two repeaters here in town, one on UHF and one on VHF, that can be used to tie into the internet and contact radio operators around the world.
“If you’re sitting here with your hand-held, you can talk to your buddy in Taiwan, said Horne.
However, only government licenced operators are allowed to be on the air (apart from CB radio, the Citizen’s Band).
“It’s got pretty easy now,” said Woodbridge. “You write an exam with a hundred questions on it, get 70 per cent on it and you’re issued a licence.”
When Woodbridge, a former electrician, got his licence in 1979, the test required the ability to do 15 words of morse code a minute and to build a transmitter and receiver.
Much of the information needed to study for a licence is readily available online nowadays, but the amateur radio community is welcoming and ever ready to answer questions and steer stumped students in the right direction.
This hospitality is a signature of the radio world, according to Woodbridge.
“You’re welcomed wherever you go in the world, to any amateur’s place,” he said. “If you’re in trouble in Russia, and you can locate an amateur radio operator, you’ll get assistance.”
Meeting a contact you’ve “worked” in person is known as “eyeballing.”
Woodbridge insisted that those interested in amateur radio shouldn’t be turned off by the assumption that it’s an expensive hobby. Older, used equipment is cheap, and you don’t have to start with an elaborate set up.
“Today all you need is a smartphone and a computer and you’re into ham radio,” said Woodbridge. “You can talk around the world.”
If you would like to learn more about amateur radio and the Rose City Club, contact treasurer Ed Kusalik at 780-374-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org.