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An aerial view

16 May 2014

by Vic Van Den Bergh

THE hobby of amateur radio - which combines electronics, communication, and geography - has an image for many people that stems from Tony Hancock's superlative piece of comedy, The Radio Ham. (In fact, most of those who engage with the hobby of amateur radio prefer the term "radio amateur" to "ham".)

Being a radio amateur is a rather odd hobby, because it is all about communicating with others around the world, and yet much for much of it you are on your own. But amateur radio is also about Morse code; amateur television; computer-based communications with, at the upper end of the hobby, satellite; and space-bounce communications.

Transceivers range from the small "hand-held" variety (costing less than £30) that can be found nestling in the anorak pocket of many an amateur, through to car-radio-type devices (£150 and upwards), up to splendid things that turn a room into something that would grace a James Bond set (starting at £250). The many secondhand bits of kit on offer on eBay and in local shops make this an easy hobby to begin.

Having a rig is only part of the story, however, because, once you have one, you will need an aerial to transmit and listen through. The aerial is the ears of the set-up, and the bigger your ears, the more you'll hear. The art of amateur radio comes in the ability to communicate as far as possible, using the least power possible, and this is where learning antenna design and the subtleties of radio come to the fore.

Becoming a radio amateur is relatively simple, and many begin in the hobby by buying a receiver and listening for a while before taking the plunge and going for a licence. We call people who do this "short-wave listeners", and there are a number who engage in this as a hobby in its own right.

Once you have decided that you would like to transmit, the best course of action is to find a radio club. The easiest way to do this is on the Radio Society of Great Britain's website: http://rsgb.org. Most clubs run training courses, and it will take only a few lessons before youhave enough under your belt to take the amateur radio foundation exam (fee £27.50), and gain your basic licence.

Although it might appear solitary, over the years I have worked with the Radio Amateur Emergency Network and provided communications for sporting, community, and other events, and proved myself useful when emergencies and disasters occurred, too.

The good news is that the hobby is there when you want it to be; for it is global, and the friends you gain make it a hobby that delivers a great deal of entertainment. There are Christian groups, such as the World Association of Christian Radio Amateurs and Listeners (www.wacral.org).

Better still, if you have an interest in technology, and would like to construct your own equipment and communicate around the world (or just up the road), then amateur radio has even more to commend it as a hobby. Just try to forget that image of the anorak.

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