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JOURNALISM: Amateur Radio The Original Social Network [Download .doc version]


Amateur Radio The Original Social Network
by Jeffrey Reed
Business London Magazine February 2018

With apologies to Mark Zuckerberg, the original social media platform didn't rely on the Internet. Ham radio operators belonging to the London Amateur Radio Club (LARC) have networked on the air since 1920.

In fact, while LARC boasts 115 members, there are an estimated 1,000 licensed amateur radio operators in London. And just because the Internet makes it easy to communicate with anyone around the world in seconds doesn't mean old-fashioned two-way radio chat is dead. LARC counts among its new members an 11-year-old boy, and an 88-year-old man, demonstrating that ham radio is alive and well.

There are about 70,000 licensed amateur radio operators in Canada, all hobbyists but many providing public service, including emergency communications. Often during extraordinary weather conditions and aftermaths, means of communication like cell phones don't function because of overloading or power outages. But ham operators with battery backups and generators can still converse around the globe over the air with police, fire and ambulance personnel.

"Amateur radio certainly proved its worth in Puerto Rico and in other Caribbean islands that were hammered this past summer," said LARC president David McCarter, call sign VE3GSO. "Cell towers and hydro towners were down, but amateur radio operators were able to communicate and get the message out, even if it meant putting up (an antenna) wire between a tree and a chimney."

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, ham operators were able to provide emergency communications for six weeks. McCarter said here in London, local hams could do the same "when everything else has pretty much failed" during a winter storm, for example.

Local hams work as a team, reporting severe weather available to Environment Canada on the air at 145.45 MHz (call letters VE3OME) through CANWARN - the Canadian Weather Amateur Radio Network. LARC members can also be a part of A.R.E.S. - the Amateur Radio Emergency Service. Trained amateur radio operators can assist emergency services and municipal agencies during an emergency or disaster.

But according to McCarter, LARC provides many other forms of public service in London. For example, during bicycle tours or road races, LARC members can alert organizers about broken wheels or dehydrated runners. LARC will lend a hand to organizers of the 2018 Ontario Summers Games in London. Said McCarter, "There doesn't need to be an emergency for us to provide public service to the London community."

Amateur radio as a hobby saw its London roots in the attic of the former downtown YMCA building at Wellington and Queens, now the site of One London Place. Using a wire running out the side of the building and across the roof, noisy transmissions could be heard by pedestrians walking along Dundas Street and Queens Avenue.

LARC members today can converse quietly with handheld, mobile or base radios from the palm of their hands, their vehicles, or their homes where commonly-called radio "shacks" house transceivers allowing users to talk across the street or across the globe.

"Ham radio was the original social medium," McCarter said. "Today we have Facebook and Twitter. There are so many - it's like a 500-channel universe. But as LARC prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020, we celebrate the fact we've talked with people all over the world for 100 years."

For more information on LARC, visit www.larca.ca.



 

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