The image of a ham radio operator sitting alone in the dark corner of the basement with his or her equipment may have happened in the “old days,” says Fort Erie’s Stephen Riddle.
But the president of the Niagara Peninsula Amateur Radio Club (NPARC) says that is no longer true and it’s a perception that the club’s radio enthusiasts hope to change.
“Amateur radio, (or ham as it’s known to most people) is both a hobby and a service,” he explains.
The NPARC offers Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), which is amateur operator volunteers service members organized and ready to assist in public service and emergency communications. Should a national emergency or a regional emergency arise, Riddle says volunteers are ready to assist local hospitals and the Region.
“We do events like the Ride for Roswell, the Canada Day Parade and the Niagara Falls Santa Claus Parade. We are able to assist different organizations in the event of emergencies.”
Speaking about the hobby aspect of ham radio, Riddle says it’s “a lot of fun.”
“We’re able to talk to people around the world using communications. There are all sorts of digital communications. There’s satellite, radio and the internet. There’s so much to it now.”
Club members recently competed in a QSO Party, a worldwide event that is held for fun to give amateur radio operators an opportunity to connect with other enthusiasts.
Riddle explains that QSO means “conversation” and amateur radio clubs around the globe were tasked with the challenge of building an antenna and using a lightbulb as part of the design. The goal was to see how many people could be contacted using the antenna.
Several club members gathered at the Black Creek Community Centre on March 9 and 10 where the eight-foot-high antenna stood and attempted to contact other clubs.
“We definitely made a few contacts. Italy and Cuba were the furthest ones,” Riddle says.
After the event, the local club submitted a contact log. It will be about another week or two until the winner of the contest is announced, once the data has been compiled.
While amateur radio is an important hobby and skill to have, Riddle admits it is a challenge to find new recruits for the NPARC, which currently has 60 members.
“The challenge today is getting the younger people interested in the hobby,” he says.
“The technology side of it is just amazing. There’s so much more to it than talking on the radio anymore.”
He says forms of communication that people use regularly—the internet and phones—aren’t always available in the event of an emergency.
He says during recent hurricanes, several islands in the Caribbean had no communication and amateur radio was the only way to communicate with people.
To operate a ham radio, Riddle says a licence is required. NPARC is offering classes at the Black Creek Community Centre beginning April 18.
The classes will be held Thursday nights at 7 p.m. and run for eight weeks. The cost is $70 per person and includes a study guide.
Anyone interested in the class can send an e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the club visit its website at www.nparc.on.ca.