FOR YEARS, AS coordinator of the West Seattle Grand Parade, Jim Edwards had to rely on the sight, the howls and the hope. “I was just looking down the street and I was like, ‘I hope everything is fine over there,’” he recalls. When the West Seattle Amateur Radio Club had an entry in the parade, they asked if they could use their help.
The following year he had obtained a radio operator’s license and, “it has only continued since then,” he said. He hangs his radios and a laptop computer on his motorcycle, which he now uses as a mobile base.
For amateur radio operators, connecting from separate locations has always been part of the fun. With in-person socialization being temporarily absent during the pandemic, this is even more important.
In addition to their regular events, the West Seattle club added a daily noon recording last year to give everyone an extra chance to say hello and let others know if they need anything.
“If we haven’t heard from someone in a while, someone might come knocking on their door and ask, ‘Are you alright? “Says Edwards.” We’re watching each other. “
The West Seattle club is one of the few in the Puget Sound area, which I learned has an extensive network of radio infrastructure. (To find a club, go to the American Radio Relay League website.)
In some ways, ham radio is the perfect pandemic activity. It’s always been about reaching through space to connect with people who aren’t physically nearby.
“I think it does a really good job of building community at all levels,” said Curt Black, the current president of the West Seattle club. People of different ages, backgrounds and physical abilities can use it to connect.
The club usually has a few meetings a month (meetings are online these days). Sometimes members arrive early and stay late to help each other with technical issues or answer questions.
When I think of amateur radio, I think of sending a message through radio waves, all over the world, to eventually connect with a random person on the other side of the earth. And people from as far away as Australia have used repeaters in Seattle to connect.
But much of what amateur radio operators do is more local. Some are trained to help in an emergency or disaster; Black says local radio operators helped coordinate rescue efforts after the Oso landslide, for example.
They also teach those new to radio and help them prepare for the tests required to obtain various FCC licenses. (I was a little sad to learn that Morse code is no longer required. But if you like acronyms, you’re very lucky.)
Online resources like hamstudy.org make it easy to get started, but other radio fans are always ready to answer questions and help newbies figure out how to apply their knowledge in the real world. “It’s what I would describe as lifelong learning, and that’s what I love the most,” says Black.
It’s also not as old-fashioned a hobby as I would have thought: although you can use old-fashioned equipment if you want, computers and Wi-Fi are part of the arsenal. modern radio equipment. “When people get down to it and find out what the capabilities are, they’re blown away,” Edwards says. “That’s what’s fun – finding out what they can do with it. “