Formed in the 1960s, the Barrie club has approximately 60 members armed with reliable radio technology that has been in use for over 100 years
As the pandemic picks up speed and people are advised to limit their social interactions in person, a small group of people are reaching out across the airwaves of Barrie to connect with others in a very different way. .
The Barrie Amateur Radio Club was one of the few activities to have thrived during the COVID crisis that has now lasted two years.
Formed in the 1960s, its current group of about 60 like-minded members are armed with reliable radio technology that has been in use for over a hundred years. And they use the equipment not only for the social aspect, but also to meet a need if there is one in our city in the event of a disaster.
Part of the club’s mission statement is to “maintain suitable radio systems to provide communications for the benefit of the community and, upon request, to assist civil authorities.”
An example of this assistance would be to provide emergency services in the city as a means of communication in the event of failure of existing communications and critical infrastructure.
Before the pandemic, the club held monthly meetings with police and firefighters to discuss training scenarios and the club’s role in helping in an emergency.
But most of the time, the main activity of the group is just having fun.
Ed Murray, the club’s public information manager, enjoyed listening to shortwave radio as a child and waited until his retirement in 2019 to learn how to become an amateur radio operator.
When asked what his favorite part about being a member was, he replied, “Helping the community and the fellowship with the 60 different members who have a wide range of talents and experiences to share.”
The technical milestones are also exciting.
“I also managed to bounce a signal off the International Space Station and get their repeater message. He calls the frequency, his call letters and gives the time in universal time, ”explains Murray.
To help demystify radio jargon, a repeater is an electronic device that can receive a weaker radio signal, or a signal from a portable radio user, and relay it over a much larger area so that other users can receive the signal.
“During the first few days of the pandemic in isolation, in 2020, I spent a lot of time here in my radio cabin, talking. We had a wellness check where people would listen to their radio at 1:30 pm every afternoon and we all took turns saying what was going on and how we were doing, ”Murray said.
“The clubs would also reach out to other clubs. We were able to take a situation, turn it around and put it in a positive light,” he adds.
With most of the members in their 50s and 60s, the current challenge for the group is to engage the younger ones.
“This time of year, many clubs will be setting up a radio network with various members so children can talk with Santa Claus at the North Pole,” Murray said.
There is also an event called Jamboree on the Air where Boy Scouts and Girl Guides meet at the Tiffin Center for Conservation, located just west of Barrie, to learn about ham radios and connect with other Boy Scout groups. across North America.
“Cell phones and the internet have been a stumbling block in explaining our hobby because a lot of people say, ‘Just grab a cell phone and call France,’ says Murray. “The challenge here is that I’m going to build myself an antenna made of wire, hang it in my yard, plug it into my radio, and make the effort to contact someone over the air. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing something you have built actually work.
“When we showed the scouts our radios and they started hearing other kids and were able to talk to them by clicking on the mic, the cell phones went into my pocket pretty quickly,” Murray adds with a little laugh.
It doesn’t take much to get into the hobby. Fifty dollars can get you a beginner’s radio. Each year the club offers an Industry Canada course that helps you prepare for an exam, as certification is required to be an operator in Canada.
Club meetings are currently taking place online.
“Everyone is welcome to participate, see what we’re doing, and try to use a radio with a licensed member,” Murray says.
More information, including membership details, can be found on the Barrie Amateur Radio Club website by clicking here.