We live in a world of fantastic technological developments that affect almost every part of our daily lives. Space exploration, high-speed jet aircraft, advanced developments in medicine, digital computers, worldwide electronic communications are but a few of these achievements.
Amateur Radio offers a challenging entry into exploring much of the technology involved in quite a few of these fields. Amateur Radio operators have made many significant contributions to radio communications and electronics technology. In fact, many scientists, engineers, and even astronauts pursue Amateur Radio as a rewarding hobby. Interestingly, many of NASA’s space shuttle flights include Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX) which contacts Amateur Radio operators.
There are many fascinating aspects to Amateur Radio — talking to fellow hams, participating in emergency communications during disasters, studying electronics technology, or building a ham gear-antennas using state-of-the-art electronic components. Many hams use Amateur Radio as a steppingstone to a rewarding career in electronics.
But…this marvellous technology is about 100 years old!!
Amateur Radio Operators in India
Indian Amateur Radio operators number approximately 38,000. Amateur Radio clubs across the country offer training courses for the Amateur Station Operator Certificate. People interested in the hobby are advised to get in touch with a local radio club or a local Amateur Radio operator who can direct them to a club that organises training programmes.
Amateur Radio: Activities and Events in India
Popular Amateur Radio events and activities include Amateur Radio Direction Finding, DX-peditions, hamfests, JOTA, QRP operations, Contesting, DX communications, Light House operation, and Islands on Air. One of the most popular activities is Amateur Radio Direction Finding commonly known as a “foxhunt”. Several clubs across India regularly organise foxhunts in which participants search for a hidden transmitter around the city. In 2005, a foxhunt carried out at Matheran, near Mumbai, by the Mumbai Amateur Radio Society was listed in the 2006 Limca Book of Records under the entry’ most ham operators on horseback on a foxhunt’. Despite being a popular recreational activity among hams, no organisation has yet participated in an international event.
At nation-level, Hamfest India is an annual event that serves the purpose of social gathering and comparison-sales of radio equipment. Most hamfests feature a flea market, where the attendees buy and sell equipment, generally from and for their personal stations. The event also seeks to raise Amateur Radio awareness in the host city. The first hamfest was held in the year 1991 at Kuttikannam in the Idukki district of Kerala. Thereafter, it has been held each year. The last hamfest was held in November 2019 at Kanyakumari.
Ham Nets, where Amateur Radio operators’ check into, are regularly conducted across India. Airnet India, Charminar Net, Belgaum Net, and Nite Owl’s Net are some of the well-known Ham Nets in India.
Live satellite images are decoded by Amateur Radio operators to provide accurate weather reports during heavy rains in cities prone to flooding such as Mumbai.
Amateur Radio stations in India have acted as the ‘Second Line’ of communication when existing public or government communication links have failed. There are many examples:
- During the 1960 Post & Telegraph strike in India, a life-saving facet of Amateur Radio was demonstrated when radio amateurs passed messages for the people and provided vital public service.
- In September 1979, during the flash floods at Morbi in Gujarat triggered by the Machhu dam burst, more than a dozen Amateur Radio stations across western India in the cities of Rajkot, Baroda, Ahmedabad and Mumbai activated emergency radio stations to aid relief agencies, government officials and victims of the disaster.
- Hams have rendered similar services during the cyclonic storms in Saurashtra and many times in Andhra Pradesh – a state prone to cyclonic storms.
- We may recollect the earthquakes at Uttarkashi and also at Latur in Maharashtra. Then, ham radio operators had provided the essential communication network for coordinating and organising relief operations and arranging medicines, food and clothing for the affected people.
- Ham Radio again proved its importance during the devastating Orissa cyclone, when all the communication facilities broke down. A ham radio station set up at Orissa Chief Minister’s residence maintained contact with the nation’s capital for nearly a month.
- Amateur radio stations also come into action during major sports events like the Asian Games, the Himalayan Car Rally, etc. to assist the officials and operators. The Himalayan Expedition teams get assistance from the ham radio operators.
Thus, this specialised technical sport or hobby holds national importance like any other public service.