What is Amateur Radio ?

A retired military officer in Northern Manitoba makes friends over the radio with a Ham in Lithuania. A Saskatchewan teenager uses her computer to upload a chess move to an orbiting space satellite, where it's retrieved by a fellow chess enthusiast in Japan. An aircraft engineer in Alberta participating in a "DX contest" swaps callsigns with Hams in 100 countries in a weekend. In Ontario, volunteers save lives as part of their involvement in an emergency net. And at the scene of a traffic accident on a Toronto freeway, a Ham calls for help by using a pocket-sized hand-held radio.

This unique mix of fun, public service, and convenience, is the distinguishing characteristic of the hobby called Amateur Radio. Although Hams get involved in Amateur Radio for many reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology, regulations, and operating principles, demonstrated by passing an examination for a licence to operate on radio frequencies known as the Amateur Bands. These frequencies are reserved by Industry Canada (formerly the federal Department of Communications, or DOC), for use by Hams, at intervals from just above the AM broadcast band all the way up into the extremely high microwave frequencies.

Who is the Typical Ham ?

Amateur Radio operators come from all walks of life -- movie stars, missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, truck drivers, and just plain folks! They are all ages, sexes, income levels, and nationalities.

But whether they prefer Morse Code on an old brass telegraph key connected to a low power transmitter, voice communication on a hand-held radio, or computer messages transmitted through satellites, they all have an interest in what's happening in the world, and they use radio to reach out.

What is the Appeal of Ham Radio ?

Some Hams are attracted by the ability to communicate across the country, around the globe, even with astronauts on space missions. Others build and experiment with electronics. Computer hobbyists find packet radio to be a low-cost way to expand their ability to communicate. Those with a competitive streak enjoy DX contests, where the object is to see how many distant locations they can contact. Some like the convenience of a technology that gives them portable comunication. Others use it to open the door to new friendships over the air or through participation in one of more than 2000 Amateur Radio clubs throughout the world.

A Noble History

The Italian, Guglielmo Marconi, whose name is synonymous with wireless, or radio, communication, often said he was the first Amateur or Ham operator. Although not the inventor of wireless communication, he saw its possibilities for world-wide communication, particularly for safety at sea, when he was able to receive a Morse signal in Newfoundland, which was transmitted from England, in 1901, using a spark transmitter and a simple receiver.

Many experimenters and scientists added to the knowledge required to improve the equipment and thus increase the distances signals would travel. The sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912, when 703 survivors owed their lives to the use of wireless to summon help, showed the world the value of such a service. The Amateur experimenter has been closely associated with wireless since the early days, and over the years has made numerous technical improvements, many of which have been adapted by commercial companies. The Amateur bands were in use in the early 1920s and have been changed and increased over the years by international agreements.

Canada had a genius who had outstanding accomplishments with respect to radio, but who is frequently overlooked. He was Reginald A. Fessendon, 1866-1932, born in Knowlton, Quebec. He was the first to actually transmit the sound of the human voice without wires (23 December 1900). On Christmas Eve 1906, he beamed a Christmas concert, of voice and music, to the astonished wireless operators of ships of the United Fruit Company out in the Atlantic and Caribbean.

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Thanks to Fred Bengel (VE3TIG), and others, for their original text used in the above.
Edited by Wayne Barrey (VE3JV).