BOB CONFER: Amateur radio, a hobby in the age of social distancing | Opinion

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During the coronavirus crisis, we were told to be socially distant and to stay two meters apart.

Coincidentally, two meters is a very popular amateur radio frequency range that locally took on special significance during the statewide shutdown.

Every day at 11 a.m., local amateurs – called “hams” – gather on the Lockport Amateur Radio Association repeater (146.820 for y’all with police scanners) to check in, check on others, offer camaraderie and providing assistance – such as groceries or donations of food and supplies – to those locked down or sick in desperate need.

This daily network, frequented by 20-30 radio operators, has served as a beacon of hope, support and love in these difficult times.

This speaks to the value of amateur radio as a two-pronged pursuit: it’s a hobby and a public service.

As a hobby it gives people of all ages the chance to learn, work and develop the radio technology that will allow them to communicate (by voice, Morse code or computer) with others amateur radio operators around the corner or around the world.

From a public service perspective, amateur radio operators provide communications when storms and other natural disasters wipe out telephone, cable, and power networks, or when societal upheavals like COVID-19 upend the world.

You may know amateur radio from its presence in pop culture.

The movie “Frequency” starring Jim Caviezel and Dennis Quaid had a plot based on a geomagnetic storm that allowed a ham radio operator to talk to his father who had died decades earlier, which then allowed them to change the course of the story. Tim Allen’s character in “Last Man Standing” is an avid ham radio enthusiast and his hobby played a part in many episodes of the show.

You might also recognize amateur by his presence in the community.

If you’ve been to events like the Ride for Roswell, you’ve seen a small army of men and women with handheld and mobile radios serving as communication support and spotters for the riders. Maybe you saw the LARA folks show off their ability to communicate globally at the Niagara County Fair.

Getting a license to participate in all of this is an easy task. A few years ago, the Federal Communications Commission dropped Morse code requirements for its permits, a hurdle that had proven difficult for many (especially young people) and kept them from entering the hobby. Now all you need to do is pass a written exam, know radio and electrical theory and FCC rules and regulations. There are many study guides available and many of them actually provide the hundreds of possible questions and answers that the 35 question exams are drawn from. With time off due to the coronavirus shutdown, there’s no better time to study!

Once the state reopens, you can take the exam under the watchful eyes of local radio amateurs. When the time comes, information about exams and amateur radio in general can be found on the American Radio Relay League website (www.ARRL.org).

In 2011, I got my radio license (KC2ZZW) from the federal government after decades of participating in other radio activities like CB radio and listening to police scanner or shortwave radio.

During my first days on the air, I spoke to people in exotic locations like Argentina and St. Thomas with my modest, low-powered station. Since then I have spoken to people in over 80 different countries and in over half of our states.

I also use amateur radio, especially VHF frequencies like the aforementioned two meter band, as a lifeline. In many areas where I enjoy the great outdoors in New York (like Allegany County and the Adirondacks) there is no cellular coverage, but my little walkie-talkie can reach ham radio repeater systems listened to by local radio amateurs. This provides peace of mind and preparedness for any sort of emergency you may encounter in the wild.

While the internet has made the world smaller – allowing us to log into our Facebook and Zoom accounts to share messages with our friends and family around the world – there is always a place for the joy and service offered. by amateur radio. It’s pretty exciting that you can use a small box of electronics and a wire antenna to talk to complete but welcoming strangers on every continent or in every neighborhood.

In this age of social distancing, is there a more perfect pastime?

Confer Plastics Inc. executive Bob Confer resides in Gasport. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.


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