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Amateur radio enthusiasts hit the airways this weekend

John Noakes learned morse code when he was about 25 years old and at his fastest can send 25 to 30 words per minute.
June 21, 2017 - 9:00 PM

KAMLOOPS - When reliable forms of communication like cell phones and landlines go down during natural disasters, amateur radio enthusiasts are able to relay messages. 

Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the aggressive Barriere wildfire in in 2003 wiped out phone lines and amateur radio enthusiasts grabbed their gear and stepped up to help people communicate. Those enthusiasts are known as HAMs, and they study for years to prepare for worst case scenarios.

This weekend is the largest on-air field day in North America. An estimated 40,000 HAMs from across the continent will take part in the exercise, according to the American Radio Relay League.

Cell phones and landlines need infrastructure but with HAM radio, all that's needed to relay messages is a transceiver, cable, an antenna and a power supply.

In this emergency preparedness field day, HAMs across Canada and the USA want to make contact with as many other stations, or operators, as possible. The challenge is to do so successfully while in the field in a less than ideal setting. The point is to hone skills and practice using equipment so they will be prepared in a natural disaster. HAMs communicate on radio frequencies using morse code or voice. 

Noakes says once he learned morse code, it was like learning a new language.
Noakes says once he learned morse code, it was like learning a new language.

Kamloops resident and HAM John Noakes is planning to set up shop in Wesmount Park in Westsyde and work from there. The Kamloops Amateur Radio Club is setting up in a remote location near Knutsford.

Noakes says he was bitten by the HAM bug as a child, when he saw his Dad practicing and learning morse code. He has formal training in radio technology, and even builds his own equipment.

"The idea of building your own equipment and doing the electronic part and seeing something you built, putting it on the air and using it to talk to someone across the world is amazing," Noakes says.

He says HAMs generally have a lot in common, but most important is a healthy curiosity, and desire to build and learn more about the technology.

All HAMs have a unique set of letters and numbers that's attached to them. Many send cards like these collected by Noakes after making contact.
All HAMs have a unique set of letters and numbers that's attached to them. Many send cards like these collected by Noakes after making contact.

"We have a natural curiosity to see how things work and develop new ways of doing things," Noakes says.

While this upcoming field day is for North America, Noakes once made contact with a Missionary in Peru who was trying to connect with someone in Toronto. Using a phone patch, Noakes connected the missionary with the person he needed to speak to.

"It really was a chance meeting, but I was on cloud nine," Noakes says with a smile.

The idea of the field day is to connect with as many fellow HAMs as possible, but Noakes says education and outreach is a big part of why many set up in public places. He wants people to wander up and ask questions.

To his dismay, Noakes says the number of young people involved in HAM radio nowadays is dwindling. He's hoping anyone interested will stop by and ask questions because most HAMs are enthusiastic about the craft and are eager to share it with others.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Kim Anderson or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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