Ham radio club’s 30th Christmas...‘Amateur Radio is by no means dead’

Jerry Durgan, Contributing Writer

For “at least thirty years,” explained Betty Kilgus, “we’ve had Christmas dinner for members of the E.A.R.S. members (Edisto Amateur Radio Society) and their families.” The Kilgus's (Betty and Carl) have annually hosted the annual E.A.R.S. dinner at their home. More than two dozen hams and their spouses enjoyed the 2010 Christmas dinner.

Though talk among the shortwave enthusiasts at the ever-popular dinner was about everything from politics to the national debt, much of it still, as always, revolved around shortwave antennas, the newest shortwave equipment acquisitions, “rf” (radio frequencies), amateur radio repeaters and news of past E.A.R.S. members.

Though amateur operators, on the average, are getting older (some estimates are that the average age is over 50), amateur radio is by no means becoming defunct.

“The challenge that I see is going to be keeping the aging body of the amateur community from miring us in the past and keeping us from making the innovation necessary to maintaining the appearance that amateur radio is relevant enough …” stated ham operator Kelly Martin in her blog “Nonbovine ruminations.”

That’s certainly true, particularly when many amateur radio operators are aging and younger folks concentrate more on digital cell phones, iPods, etc. that amateur shortwave radio simply cannot compete. Amateur short wave transmission and reception is globally capable while the currently more popular forms of the new digital-age communication are quite limited. The only exception is the computer-based and now cell-phone based internet access that is truly global in its very nature. Even so, an amateur radio operator in Bamberg, for example, can talk with another ham operator in China or India, or Cape Horn or Argentina, Hawaii or Fiji. And there are those hardcore amateur radio enthusiasts who are looking into new digital and video shortwave techniques and even internet access to short wave transmission and reception to “take amateur radio back out of the dark ages.”

And amateur radio still has a vital place in emergency and disaster communications. When land-line telephones are out of service, cell phone towers are down or incapable of communicating, battery operated and handheld amateur short wave radio still has the capability of communicating, not only with other hams but with state-wide and county-wide disaster professionals to report and convey essential information as well as to the National Weather Service’s Skywatch and Skywarn. Skywarn amateur radio spotters provide important weather information to the National Weather Service. Periodically, National Weather Service personnel complete radio checks with local ham operators to assure continuing communication capability.

For those youngsters who think amateur radio has nothing to offer, amateur radio has several communications satellites in orbit operating on various bands and modes. The Space Shuttles and the International Space Station include Amateur Radio as part of their payloads. One can work these orbiting stations with a modest antenna and a handheld transceiver. At various times, amateur radio operators have had the honor and pleasure of talking directly with astronauts while in space. Several astronauts, in fact, are ham operators themselves.