Amateur radio enthusiasts are really very professional in their approach to the hobby. It is not something that one can just buy equipment and start tomorrow as is possible with many hobbies. Learning “on the job” is not an option. Radio is much less of a mass communication medium now than it was just after the end of the Second World War. Television and the internet have taken over this field. Commercial radio still has its place for the many who catch up with daily events on their drive to work or who travel on the train, underground or ‘bus. It’s effectiveness can be gauged by the number of politicians and advertisers who are keen to get their stories out to the public by being interviewed or mentioned by well known personalities.
There are still some for whom just the word “amateur” has an exciting meaning and feeling. Amateur television is an “extension” of amateur or “ham” radio but it is much more expensive and exacting. Such services preceded commercial television in many places. The marriage of amateur radio and computers allows a compromise to be achieved. The radio operator can, via web cameras, show his “shack” off to his contacts as he is operating his outfit.
Certain formalities are demanded before one can run a radio station transmitting to and receiving signals from the whole world. In almost every country the appropriate authorities (Radio Society of Great Britain, American Radio Relay League etc) ensure that only qualified and responsible people can take up the hobby seriously by requiring the passing of licensing examinations. It is necessary to demonstrate detailed knowledge of the rules and regulations set by the government with respect to allowed frequencies and power output for local and international operations. Since 2003 it is no longer necessary to become proficient in Morse code (World Radio Communication Conference, 2003) although this skill is sometimes recognized as a “badge of honour” among serious amateur operators.The need to be proficient in Morse code is now a matter for individual national licensing authorities.
The equipment necessary can be just bought from specialist stores. Advice can be had from magazines, the internet and friends who are already licensed. The real enthusiast likes to be able to build his own transmitters and receivers. This takes a good understanding of electronics and the theory of aerial arrays. The days of an aluminium chassis supporting ranks of vacuum tube valves, miles of wires and many resistors and capacitors have given way to printed circuit boards with many components built in and transistors. The theory is little changed but also gone are the times when much equipment could be bought cheaply from surplus stores which sold items no longer required by the the armed and other government services.
The camaraderie resulting from making contact with others all over the world either via the universal language of the Morse code or by ‘phone (voice) contact still exists and is, as ever, exciting. It is a hobby accessible equally to the young, the old, the able bodied and even the severely disabled. For the satisfaction of acquiring new knowledge and putting it into practice for all to see little can better amateur radio as a hobby.
World Radio Communication Conference, Geneva, 2003
Radio Society of Great Britain
American Radio Relay League
Radio Amateurs of Canada
New Zealand Association of Radio Transmitters
Wireless Institute of Australia