The Wonderful World of Amateur Radio – ZS6GM

Chris Turner, ZS6GM

Amateur Radio, often called Ham Radio, is a communications hobby practiced by over 3 million people worldwide. It is not just hobby, but it is a Service recognised by the International Telecommunications Union.

Tim Allen who plays Mike Baxter in “Last Man Standing” is also a radio amateur.

It is the only hobby which allows you to communicate and experiment, while learning new skills. Amateur radio activities range from sporting like activities with competitions and field activities to experimentation with digital communication, use of computers and radio to complement each other and experimenting with wireless technologies. Many radio amateurs are involved in some kind of ‘home brew’ or DIY projects. Others join clubs and keep themselves busy with group activities. It is a hobby that has not only survived the test of time but has contributed to society for more than 120 years. It is a hobby that continues to grow with a unique appeal which embraces modern communications methods while still retaining the classic appeal of the ‘wireless’.

The modern radio amateur is a person whose life has seen the impact of Television, Internet, Mobile Devices and the Space Age. Each of these technologies is reflected in Amateur Radio, while still retaining the classic appeal of the ‘wireless’.

For many people, amateur radio begins as a hobby but often leads to a career in technology. There is no “typical” ham radio operator. Radio Amateurs come from different cultures, income levels, and ages to make up the worldwide collection of over 3 million amateur radio operators.

Amateur Radio in the Community

Amateur radio is way to make new friends or to keep in touch with people. It is also a fantastic resource for emergency services, especially in situations where mobile networks are offline, landlines are down, internet services are not available. Speed and convenience make amateur radio perfect for first responders to quickly call for help.

In South Africa, HAMNET, a division of the South African Radio League, is a volunteer organisation of skilled amateur radio communicators who are always available to help in an emergency. Many radio amateurs are also volunteer medics and first responders. There have been several instances where skilled amateur radio operators were able to help rescue victims of emergencies and natural disasters.

Amateur Radio and the World of Engineering

Throughout the twentieth century radio amateurs have transferred their experimentation into lucrative and distinguished professional careers. Amateur radio does not necessarily transfer into a career in electronics but also in other fields of science.

One such radio amateur is Joe Taylor a professor of physics at Princeton University in the USA, whose enthusiastic pursuit of his hobby helped him to design specialised equipment to study Astrophysical objects including pulsars. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1993 for the co-discovery of a new type of pulsar.

Since its earliest days amateur radio continues to attract experimenters without any formal training. Many radio amateurs build their own equipment including radios, computer interfaces and antennas using components they buy themselves. Many collaborate with similar experimenters and other come up with new methods or techniques. Radio amateur experimenters are not constrained by company profits, business decisions or someone else’s agenda. And more importantly it encourages interest.

Many technology companies throughout the decades have encouraged amateur radio activity because of the value that home experimenters bring to the job. Motorola known for its innovative communication technology in mobile, military and space communications equipped and encouraged the formation of radio clubs at all its facilities. Motorola is only of many companies who did this.

It is interesting to note that those countries that have a large number of radio amateurs are also technology leaders. Countries like Japan, USA, Germany, Italy and the UK.



Amateur Radio in Society

This unique hobby helps to develop personal abilities and achievements in many ways. It can increase knowledge of geography, science and mathematics, and helps the individual to better understand the technologies used in a modern society. There is no other hobby like it for someone who wants to learn basic skills, enter a technical vocation, or who is already employed in a technical field. Amateur radio provides life-long learning through exploring the art of radio communication, networking and sharing. And, communicating with people of different cultures overseas available through Amateur Radio leads to greater understanding and friendship.


Amateur Radio is Fun

Amateur radio can provide hours of fun for people of any age. For a young person think about the experiences you accumulate that will come into good use when you are studying at university or college, whatever course you take.

For those building a career, amateur radio provides a wealth of experience which will stand them in good stead. For someone in retirement the world is still a playground of social networking, technical experimentation and fun. That is why Amateur Radio is often called the most versatile technical experience anyone can enjoy. It has even been called the fun factory!