Amateur radio enthusiasts gather in Friedrichshafen, Germany – Quartz

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On the last weekend of June, more than 17,000 people from around the world gathered in Friedrichshafen, Germany, to tune in to a seemingly outdated technology: radio.

With 198 exhibitors from 38 countries, Ham Radio 2015 was the 40th gathering of amateur radio operators from around the world in this holiday town on Lake Constance. However, Ham Radio Friedrichshafen is not the largest amateur radio convention in the world: that honor belongs to Dayton, Ohio, whose Hamvention attracts more than 25,000 people each year. (The “ham” is an old jab against ham radio operators that has lasted for a century.)

Amateur radio fans (amateurs in American jargon, or Funker in German) come in several frequencies. DXers are passionate about making contacts around the world and collecting QSL postcards (QSL is a telegraphic short for “I received your transmission”) as testimonials to their accomplishments. People on QRP (telegraphic abbreviation for “reduce power”) try to maximize their transmission distance with the minimum power needed.

Space is an obsession for some: you can contact the International Space Station or bounce signals off the moon. My knowledge of the amateur radio world comes from my father, a collector of vintage sounds, which is quite another thing.

Grace Dobush

Radio fans were easy to spot in the city: Anyone with an antenna sticking out of their backpack or with a shirt emblazoned with a five or six character call number was definitely one. (You could get a shirt personalized with your radio call number at the convention for just a few euros.) For members of the Deutschen Amateur-Radio Club, “DARC moon side” T-shirts were also popular.

Ham Radio’s main convention hall was packed with businesses selling antennas, receivers and gadgets, as well as booths for national amateur radio groups from Ireland, Israel and Japan. (Hi to the Italian organization, for free prosecco and parmesan.) A tech flea market filled two other rooms, where you could buy vintage receivers and transmitters, examine an original Enigma machine, and rummage through boxes of coins. , parts and cables to secure your own equipment.

For the second year at the Friedrichshafen Ham Radio convention, a room was dedicated to Maker World’s DIY tech styles, where drones, 3D printers, and arduino kits were the name of the game, with a mandatory steampunk booth. At first glance, it seemed like modern technology was encroaching on a group that prefers older devices, but it was actually a perfect match.

Grace Dobush

Long before Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built computers in their Silicon Valley garages, amateur radio brewers were doing it themselves in the 1930s and 1940s. A radio fan who found the match suitable told me. : “It’s all about experimentation.

If you follow the history of wireless communication and radio, you will see similar arcs with the digital revolution. The advent of transistor radios in the 1950s was like the release of the first iPod in 2001: for the first time, a radio receiver could fit in your pocket: tiny transistors amplified sound rather than bulky and fragile vacuum tubes. . Radios have gone from expensive living room furniture to ubiquitous accessories.

The hobby has real practical applications even in the digital age: I ended up having dinner next to a group of Notfunk (emergency radio) volunteers. When a disaster strikes and normal methods of communication are interrupted, officials can call on members of the International Amateur Radio Union for help.

Following the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, Technische Hilfswerk, Germany’s Federal Disaster Service, dispatched a discovery team to determine what help was needed. Volunteers from Notfunk Deutschland contacted three Nepalese radio operators and were able to share up-to-date information with the German Federal Government, and let residents know that help was on the way.

Grace Dobush


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