From Sonia Gandhi to Amitabh Bachchan, several eminent personalities are HAM radio operators. We find out how you can get started as an amateur radio enthusiast
Simply put, any amateur radio is referred to as “HAM radio” and the operators are termed as “Hams”. By definition the term amateur would imply that the radio and its operator are either committed to helping communities or pursue it out of individual interest without any ambition of financial compensation unlike commercial radio operators. The term amateur is not a reflection of the capabilities of the system or the skill of the operator. It indicates that the operators are committed to helping communities without financial gain. This also helps as a classification basis for the license, where enthusiast licenses (for Hams) are cheaper than commercial licenses.
Ham radio operators usually enjoy personal communication with each other and can support their communities during emergencies or disasters while learning more about electronics and radio communication theory. The culture of operating Ham Radios unlike other similar socio-technical activities (like Geo-Caching) is not new. Even though the first license was granted in India as early as 1931 it became popular and omnipresent only after 1984 in India, when the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi lifted the import duty for wireless equipment. As of 2008 estimates there are more than 16000 operators in India and around six million worldwide.
Amateur radio operators help the community at large during disaster situations like floods, earthquakes, cyclones or whenever ‘normal’ communication systems fail. Ham radio operators provide emergency communication to their communities. Apart from that they also participate in contests. This is called the sport of Ham radio. Hams go on air and compete to see who can make the most contacts in a specified time interval. Some lucky hams get to speak to astronauts since space stations have Ham radio equipment and some astronauts use them to make contact with the hams on earth. There are also satellites which bounce Ham signals across the globe so you could speak to people from the other side of the globe.
Since there is no censorship board for amateur radios there are two generally accepted guidelines that are followed, think of them as fair-use policies:
1. Hams are not allowed to do anything with their radios for personal financial gain. Ham radio is a hobby.
2. Ham radio operators cannot ‘broadcast’ to the public. This means that Ham radio transmissions are meant to be received by other Ham radio operators. While a short-wave radios will allow you to listen to the Ham radio bands, what you will hear is hams talking to other hams and not music or other radio programs of ‘general’ interest.
Note: Ham radio operators are designated or known by their call signs. These call signs consist of a country code, and a unique identification number. A call sign is the identity of the Ham operator, and is issued by a central regulatory authority.
Use in relief work
Indian amateur radio operator, Bharathi VU4RBI, demonstrated amateur radio to local students in Port Blair, Andaman Islands, a few days before the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, and subsequent tsunami. In India, Vigyan Prasar (a science promotion body under the Indian Department of Science and Technology) coordinates simulated disaster communication exercises and also organizes training to help people get a Ham radio license in areas that are vulnerable to natural calamities.
A team of Ham radio operators were at Port Blair on Andaman Island on a ‘Dx-Expedition’ when the tsunami struck in December 2005. Mr. Sarat Babu recounts how he was able to contact 12,000 people on the mainland and all over the world and help the Government understand the ground situation when all other communication links were cut. The exemplary services he rendered during the crucial 10-day period brought him recognition in the form of the International Humanitarian Award.
The Amateur Radio Society of India has been instrumental in leading amateur radio DX-peditions to the remote island territories of India in the Indian Ocean. In December, 2004, a team of amateur radio operators embarked on an ARSI-organized DX-pedition to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The team was on the islands during the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Following the earthquake and tsunami, the ARSI team began immediate amateur radio emergency communications from two stations on the islands, one at Port Blair and the other on Car Nicobar. These were the only effective communications from the territory to the rest of the world for 10 days following the disaster.
If you prefer a structured approach you can get involved in the amateur radio field by finding a local club. The club will provide you information about getting licensed and local operating practices. They will also provide technical advice like information about purchasing equipment locally. Many clubs organize meetings and classes to teach the basic skills of radio operation and prepare you for the Ham radio license test. You can also do it yourself by reading books or getting help from another amateur radio operator.
Ham meets are also organized. In India too. Hamfest has become popular since 1991 and last year it was held in Bengaluru - The Garden City of India along with Golden Jubilee Celebrations of Bangalore Amateur Radio Club VU2ARC.
Most Amateurs purchase a handheld VHF or UHF (or a combined “dualband” VHF+UHF) radio. You can optionally connect an external antenna at your home for extended range. A mere handheld, running at low power, is sufficient to gain access to most local repeaters so this is plenty to get you started.
The price of these handhelds can be obtained from manufacturers as per make and features. Some popular brands are Alinco, Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu.
Amateur Radio Transceivers can be made by enthusiasts with locally available components. Several Hams have come up with their circuit design, PCBs and construction of low cost amateur Radio equipment. Assume that you have just passed the Restricted Grade-II class “no code” license and are looking for a radio.
License and Examination Details
Amateur radio operators have to qualify in an examination conducted by Ministry of Communications, Government of India and obtain license for operating / possessing a Radio Station. Any individual above the age of 12 is permitted to appear for Amateur Station Operator License Examination and no educational qualification is prescribed. It takes just two months (say two hours a day training) to become eligible for the examination.
One should qualify a simple test conducted in three subjects namely,
I) Morse Code (Transmission & Reception)
II) Communication Procedure
III) Basic Electronics.
The Officer-In- Charge, Wireless Monitoring Station, Dept. of Telecommunication under Ministry of Communication, is the authority for conducting these tests in their own town provided there are sufficient number of applicants. The licenses are issued by Wireless Planning & Co-ordination Wing of DOT, after passing the test in any of the following grades:
1. Restricted Grade II -Permitting use of VHF/UHF only (i.e. Walkie-Talkies).
2. Grade II - Permitting HF/VHF/UHF frequencies but with limited transmitting power.
3. Grade I- Permitting all amateur frequencies with higher power including latest techniques.
4. Advance Grade- Permitting higher power and advanced techniques including Satellite Communication.
The ability to handle Morse Code at the rate of 5 words per minutes sending receiving will make you eligible to get grade-II and 12 words per minutes sending-receiving will get grade-I. For advanced grade higher level of technical knowledge in electronics is essentially required. Basic knowledge can be obtained by purchasing study manuals, books on Morse Code from any of the amateur clubs.
The exam fee should be paid in the form of Demand Draft drawn only from State bank of India in favor of “Pay & Accounts Officer (Head Quarters), Department of Telecommunications, New Delhi” and payable at New Delhi service Branch No:7687. The fees is as follows: Grade II & Restricted Grade II is Rs.10 each, while Grade I is Rs.20 and Advance Grade is Rs.25.
For those that like a structured approach, many clubs organize meetings and classes to teach the basic skills of radio operation and prepare people for their Ham radio license test. At the end of the classes, a test is given. If you pass, you’re a Ham! There are clubs in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. Every month meets are held in Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Nagpur. Similarly, hams meet up in January, March, June, August, October and December in Ajmer, Bangalore, Darjeeling, Gorakhpur, Jalandhar, Goa, Mangalore, Shillong, Ranchi, Srinagar and such other places where a monitoring station of the Monitoring Organization of the Ministry of Communications is located.