In honor of the upcoming Amateur Radio Day celebration Saturday, June 22 in Texas County between noon and 5 p.m. in front of Pizza Express in Houston, amateur radio, its history and future, seems to be a good topic for this week.
Amateur Radio, also known as ham radio, is the use of radio frequency devices for the purpose of exchanging messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, private recreation, and emergency communication, by individuals for non-commercial purposes. The term amateur in this situation means a person who has an interest in radio electric practices with a purely personal interest and no monetary or similar reward expected from the use.
The amateur radio and satellite service is established and controlled by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) through the Radio Regulations division. ITU regulates all the technical and operational characteristics of radio transmission, both amateur and commercial broadcasting. In order to become an amateur radio operator you must pass a series of tests to show your understanding of the concepts in electronics and the government regulations.
Over two-million people worldwide are amateur radio operators and use their transmission equipment for a variety of tasks including radio communication relays, computer networks over air-waves, and even video broadcasts. Because these radio waves can travel internationally as well as into space, the regulatory board needs to be an international board. Currently that controlling board is the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU), which is in three regions and has member associations in most countries.
My first experience with ham radio was as a teenage boy. One of my neighbors was a ham radio operator with the highest level of license. I remember him saying he could operate at 100,000 watts. He only had a 50,000 watt antenna and one night he just wanted to see what 100,000 watts would do. I remember seeing a blue glow coming off of his antenna tower that night for about ten minutes. He climbed his tower the next day to repair a cable that had melted. I remember sitting in his basement studio and watching him talk to friends in China and thinking how great it would be to become an operator myself. I still have not taken that step more than 30-years later.
I helped my neighbor set up one of the first radioteletype (RTTY) systems; he used his mechanical morse-code relay and controlled it by computer to send digital signals around the globe. The technology behind it is actually still used today for computer wireless networks, though at a much higher frequency and using transistor-based switches rather than mechanical relays. The opportunities available to amateur radio enthusiasts today are endless, and I am sure that any club member would be happy to help you get started. A great place to begin would be the Amateur Radio day coming up this weekend.