Surfing the radio waves around the world
From Haiti to Asia to anywhere in the world, radio amateurs bounce around different air waves communicating with their peers locally and internationally.
Radio amateurs, Or “hams” as they are sometimes known, are part of an international fraternity represented in almost every country in the world.
They are a group of people tested for their technical abilities and licensed (in South Africa) by the Independant Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to transmit over the air waves to other radio amateurs.
Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the Cape Town Amateur Radio Centre (CTARC), which is located at the Belvedere Centre in Rondebosch. The club recently took part in an international communications event with others operating from various lighthouses across the world, trying to contact as many clubs as possible.
Chairperson for the club, Rob Bareham, said hams are the only group which are normally capable of providing instant international communications in the event of major disasters, such as the tsunami in Asia or the earthquake in Haiti, when all local infrastructure such as cellular and satellite base stations and mains power generation has been destroyed.
“Radio amateurs are involved in all aspects of communications, from local communications, long range shortwave communications, and we also have over a dozen satellites orbiting above us which radio amateurs own and use. NASA, Russia, the European Space Agency and the Japanese offer to launch amateur radio satellites free of charge as they understand how this hobby of amateur radio encourages experimentation and advancement of the state of the art. South Africa has had two satellites launched for us and more are in the building stages. You will always find licensed radio amateurs involved in any of our local university and technikon satellite projects.,” Mr Bareham said.
It all began in 1946, when it was known as the Cape Town Branch of the South African Radio League. It was formed by early radio experimenters getting together to share technical information and to source building components. Hams in those days usually constructed their own equipment as commercially-built amateur radio equipment was rare and expensive. Their current club house was an old municipal wash house which the local radio amateurs spent many months, finances and effort to convert it into what is now known as the Belvedere Community Centre in Rondebosch. They moved into the completed club house in 1980.
Mr Bareham said the CTARC is also involved in promoting this hobby/avocation to its members in the form of training in emergency preparation and communications services to the local community. The club, which has approximately 70 members, was also instrumental in assisting with the rescue of ships at sea, providing communications in situations such as the Haiti earthquake and Asian tsunami where all normal terrestrial and satellite communications were disrupted.
Many years ago, during the Laingsburg flood, it was only radio amateurs who were able to get communications into and out of the stricken area. Our members regularly assist the rally clubs with communications, the Cape Town Cycle Tour (formerly known as the Argus Cycle Tour) and any major events where reliable communications are necessary. Over the years we have trained dozens of members of the public in order for them to write the technical and legal requirements of the ICASA examinations to become a radio amateur,” Mr bareham said.
The recent international lighthouse event takes place on the same weekend in mid-August each year when radio clubs around the world operate from their local lighthouses in an attempt to contact as many other lighthouses and other radio amateurs around the globe as possible. It is easy to see that this is in fact excellent practice for the local radio clubs to set up portable stations and antennas and practice for what could someday be a local disaster. It also focuses attention on lighthouses and lightships and their importance.
“These clubs are well recognised around the world. There are always radio amateurs in every American and Russian space craft along with the International Space Station to promote amateur radio,” Mr Bareham said.
Hams from around the world have also often taken equipment to various schools to allow the children to speak with the astronauts and further their interest in space and science in general. They are regarded as being among the most prolific inventors.
“Radio amateurs have always strived to maintain international goodwill and will communicate with fellow hams, (even) in countries that their own governments will not recognise or are having a dispute with. Radio amateurs ignore international politics and strive to promote their association with like-minded hobbyists around the world. In order to maintain such good relationships, a gentlemen’s agreement requires radio amateurs never to discuss politics, sex or religion over the air.
“We have much more interesting technical subjects to discuss,” Mr Bareham said.
• To become a radio amateur, the first requirement is to obtain a radio amateur license. Courses are offered twice a year and interested candidates can contact their club secretary by e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org, who can direct the prospective candidates to the trainer. Contrary to popular belief, Morse Code proficiency is no longer a requirement for passing the Radio Amateurs Exam (RAE).
Visit the Cape Town Amateur Radio Centre’s website at http://www.ctarc.org.za or visit the CTARC blogspot on http://zs1ct.blogspot.co.za, or the South African Radio League, which is the national body for amateur radio in south Africa, on http://www.sarl.org.za.
|The club's operations room located at the Belvedere Community|
Centre in Rondebosch
|Radio amateur and chairperson for the club, Mr Rob bareham,|
shows how radio hams operate