What is a radio amateur?

One in every thousand of your neighbours has passed the Canadian government examination giving them the authority to use radio equipment for self education and service to the community.  Amateurs are known as Hams; some are old, middle aged, just entering high school, blind or quadriplegic.  There is no limit to becoming a licensed Amateur Radio Operator.

The service they provide is unending and often unsung.  Canadian Amateurs have provided essential communications for; fighting forest fires in B.C., the devastating tornado in Barrie, Ontario, The San Francisco earthquake, the Mississauga rail derailment, military personnel on active duty to communicate with their families.  Every day, somewhere, Amateurs help their neighbours, by passing a message for them, or calling a service station for a motorist in trouble, by using their car radio equipment.  Recently one Amateur called up a search and rescue helicopter to lift an injured youngster from a cliff top.

Most of the time their radios are used for enjoyment.  They talk to other amateurs across Canada and around the world.  They exchange QSL cards by mail so that their story about talking to Australia is believed.  They pass messages from one Ham to another, until the destination is reached - essential practice for times of disaster.

When tornadoes struck Barrie the Amateurs were there without waiting to be called.  They went straight to the disaster area, risking their lives, for who knew when another tornado would strike? Power was provided by amateur emergency generators and thousands of messages were passed for the Red Cross, municipalities, police and fire departments and relatives desperate for news.

Groups of Amateurs build satellites to relay amateur communications worldwide.  They are mostly multinational efforts, with Canadian, American, British, German, Japanese and Russian Amateurs contributing, for amateur radio knows no frontiers.  Amateur have connected their computers to radio transceivers; others send television pictures around the world and bounce signals off the moon.

You may find them sitting beside their equipment, at home or in the car, talking to an Amateur, perhaps a few thousand miles away.  Their homes are often identified by a tall tower with antennae and their cars often carry a license plate with their personal call sign, such as VE5XP, each province having a different number.

Amateur radio also has a friendly social side.  Many towns have an amateur radio club, where they gather to talk, hear lectures on aspects of Amateur Radio and plan emergency exercises and Field Day - a yearly event combining a good time and a test of emergency communications.  The clubs run classes for aspiring Amateurs and those who wish to upgrade their operators' certificates.  They organize assistance to local groups planning marathons, street parades, patrol streets at Halloween, and demonstrate Amateur radio in schools and shopping malls.

Prepared by Bill Postle, VE5XP