Interest in ham radio boosted during physical distancing

Ham radio, also known as amateur radio, has been around for well over 100 years in some form or another. It was a precursor to much of modern cellphone technology. When disruptions to daily life, like COVID-19, shake faith in more commercial forms of communication, people trying to prepare for the worst frequently turn to amateur radio.

“It has increased the awareness and interest,” said Donald Lafreniere, vice president of the Keweenaw County Repeater Association.

Lafreniere got his license about 26 years ago. His wife and son have their licenses as well.

However, while the advantages of independent communication in a disaster situation are obvious, there are many other activities amateur radio operators take part in.

“My favorite aspect of the hobby is contesting, and doing community service work,” Lafreniere said.

Contesting is a type of competition where radio operators can hone their message handling skills. During a set amount of time, contestants try to contact as many other contestants as possible, keeping a log the whole time. The logs are then compared, verified and tallied by the contest runners to see who wins. Speed and accuracy are important. Geographical area, information exchanged, and other rules can vary from contest to contest.

Community service work can include coordinating events like parades, marathons and races.

“We do a lot of work for CopperDog,” Lafreniere said.

Operators are stationed at start and finish lines as well as road crossings to let organizers keep track of the entire race route.

People with the right amateur radio license – there are three levels – can use it for remote-control applications, contacting satellites, communicating in morse code, wireless experimentation and more.

Ham radio operators exist in almost every country across the globe, and Lafreniere said that global and national activity on the airwaves had definitely increased since the COVID-19 pandemic changed people’s lives, forcing many to stay home.

“It’s sort of a way for people to share their experiences,” he said.

People interested in getting involved with the local amateur radio community can find contact information on the KCRA website, kcra-mi.net. Lafreniere said they offer lessons, one-on-one mentoring and support, and will offer a licensing test opportunity at the Franklin Township Hall on July 11 at 9 a.m., pandemic restrictions permitting.


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