EAST GREENBUSH - With millions of Americans now isolated at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a renewed interest in Amateur Radio, which allows “hams” to talk with each other all over the world independent of traditional communication systems. On April 18, World Amateur Radio Day will have special meaning as hundreds of thousands of hams worldwide take to the airways to celebrate their hobby, as well as to highlight the ability to communicate using their own equipment without the need to rely on cell phones or the Internet.
“Amateur Radio operators throughout the Capital Region have been very active on the air during the pandemic, using their time at home to stay in contact with both friends as well as fellow hams all over the nation and the world,” said Bryan Jackson of the East Greenbush Amateur Radio Association (EGARA). “It has also given them the opportunity to practice their emergency communication skills. Ham radio still works when traditional communication systems fail.”
Jackson said there is also evidence that the pandemic has renewed interest in the century old hobby as people look for ways to stay in contact with others while isolated.
“Operating an Amateur Radio requires passing an FCC licensing test and online training sites have reported a large surge in traffic during the past two months,” he said. “People are re-discovering the hobby and its unique ability to put them in touch with others all over the world. I still find it amazing to make a call for any station and suddenly to be speaking with someone in California or England.”
Jackson said the biggest challenge facing potential hams right now is the ability to get licensed. Because of social distancing orders, most license testing sessions across the country have had to be cancelled. Amateur Radio clubs such as EGARA are now working with the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and the FCC to explore ways to administer Ham Radio tests online. Although many Amateur Radio clubs administer tests on behalf of the FCC, it currently must be done in-person.
In the meantime, area hams are looking forward to participating in World Amateur Radio Day, which marks its 95th anniversary this year.
The event was established in 1925 by the International Amateur Radio Union in Paris (IARU). Amateur Radio experimenters were among the first to discover that the shortwave spectrum could allow radio signals to travel worldwide. In the rush to use these shorter wavelengths, Amateur Radio was “in grave danger of being pushed aside,” the IARU’s history has noted. Amateur Radio pioneers created the IARU to support Amateur Radio worldwide and protect its use of the airwaves.
Just two years later, at the International Radiotelegraph Conference, Amateur Radio was granted the shortwave frequency allocations that are still in use today — 160, 80, 40, 20 and 10 meters. Today, additional frequency bands have been allocated, along with new modes of digital communication.
From the original 25 countries that formed the IARU in 1925, it has grown to include 160 today.
In these times of social isolation, Amateur Radio continues to remain relevant in bringing people together. “Social distancing” has long been a positive practice in the hobby by bringing people together culturally through radio while providing essential communications in the service of local communities.
World Amateur Radio Day, the celebration of the 95th annual World Amateur Radio Day with all amateur radio operators worldwide will take place April 18. The global event covering all IARU regions is the day when IARU Member-Societies can hone their skills and capabilities while enjoying global friendship with other hams worldwide.