Ham radio: A last resort when phone lines fail

We at this blog believe in radio communications and will never let it die, understanding the importance that it still plays, and during the worst catastrophes, will be the best form of communication. This story about 9-11 adds proof to this statement.

If disaster strikes, there is a form of communication that can still get through: a ham radio.

When 9/11 hit New York City in 2001, for instance, ham radio operators provided a connection to the outside world.

One of those people was amateur radio enthusiast Bob Kyvig, formerly of White Bear Lake, who now lives in Centerville.

“The only communication out there on 9/11 was amateur radio,” Kyvig recalled. “The telephone lines were jammed and no one was going in or out.”

On the days following that horrific attack, Kyvig assumed the role of messenger, relaying messages from Manhattan to loved ones in the area by calling or knocking on their door. His house calls would go like this: “I am Bob; I am a ham operator. I just communicated with your loved one; they are fine and doing well and they will talk to you soon.”

When White Bear Lake sailor Gerry Spiess landed in Samoa on his historic solo voyage across the Pacific Ocean in 1981, he contacted Kyvig, who connected Spiess with his wife Sally.

When Hugo’s tornado struck in 2008, he and wife Jill remained on the radio as long as they could but had to abandon the “ham shack” as the storm approached. The tornado did $30,000 damage to their home, including Kyvig’s outside antennas.

A ham since 1968, long before Facetime, email or Skype, Kyvig was 20 when he took up the hobby while serving in the Navy. He was stationed in Hawaii and had childhood buddies serving in Germany and aboard the USS Milwaukee. The three met on the radio at least once a week without fail for more than 40 years, until the death of one of the men in 2015.

That connection to people is what Kyvig most enjoys. He chats on the radio to people he’s never met around the world.

“It’s a worldwide network of people enjoying fellowship with other hams,” Kyvig said.

The radio operator answers calls for help in areas of “health and welfare,” and was on Centerville’s first CERT (citizen emergency response team), which is now inactive. He serves as a severe weather spotter too, and gains “insights” as to what is happening around the world by chatting to foreigners.

“We talk about everything from fishing, to weather and local problems,” he said. “It’s very interesting because you find out so much about people across the world. And it’s not just the personal part but handling messages for help in disasters.”

He’s listened to astronauts aboard the space station and scientists at the South Pole. He has talked to people in Russia, New Zealand and most of Europe. For a long time, he kept a conversation going with a man in Norway who lived close to some of his relatives. Wife Jill also has her ham license and enjoys talking to other women, known as YLs or young ladies, across the world. “Lord knows what they’re talking about,” Bob said. “I leave the room.”

Ham buffs do have opportunity to meet at events called “eyeball picnics.” The Kyvigs traveled to a picnic in Branson, Missouri earlier this summer to socialize with other hams and match voices with faces.

Without getting too technical, Kyvig explained that radio signals are bounced up through the ionosphere. The signal goes up and down several times before it hits the final destination and you don’t control where it hits. People who want to contact Kyvig can tune into his call number: WA0ROH, assigned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates interstate and international communications. The agency requires operators to keep a log of who they talk to on an electronic spreadsheet.

“We could be talking to people the FCC thinks is a bad guy,” he said. “Because we can transmit all over the world without a phone line, some use it to their own means.”

Other countries have comparable agencies.

Each country has its own beginning call letters. The United States uses W, K and N.

“The concept is simple,” he added. “We use what Mother Nature has provided: airwaves. We plug a number in for a country and anyone can answer.”

A true party line, Kyvig said 30,000 people could be listening in on a conversation.

Jill proudly pointed out that Bob earned a master’s degree from The 3905 Century Club. It’s not the typical academic degree, but a difficult achievement nonetheless. “The degree was a challenge,” he said, which explains why only 68 radio operators have received the degree since 1967.

Bob inspired her to get her license, Jill said, and together they do public service events using ham radio.

Invented in the early ’20s, ham equipment is evolving, but affordable. Newbies can do it for about $300, he said. There are antennas on his roof, but mostly they are horizontal wires stretched between a tree and the house. Generator backup is used if there’s a power outage. He also keeps a mobile 12 volt transmitter that he can use in his truck to chat while he’s driving.

At one time, working knowledge of Morse code was a requirement to get an FCC ham license, but that was dropped, so more people are getting into it, he said.

When he’s not on the radio, Kyvig enjoys making furniture and fixing TVs. He retired from a career in computer operations about five years ago.

Source – http://www.presspubs.com/citizen/news/article_c147ab30-7c25-11e6-9028-679823bb75af.html

What 2 way Radio Channel Should I Use

You may get confused about various types of walkie talkies on sale in the UK, or not be certain what type of walkie talkies you require , and what you’re legally allowed to use in some other countries that you plan to visit, or in your part of the world. Firstly, it is important to have in mind that any type of walkie talkie will function in any part of the world.

A walkie talkie is used on a channel that has a frequency associated with the walkie talkie. In other words, if a channel has a frequency different from that of a walkie talkie, then the two will not work together.

License Free Walkie Talkies

There are 446 license-free frequencies that can be used for leisure radios such as, Motorola talkabout, Binatone and Cobra radios. However, there are eight PMR466 frequencies or PMR466 channels that can be used.

The spacing between each of these frequencies is 12.5 kHz. As the system name suggests, PMR446 frequencies are located around 446MHz and are in the UHF segment of the radio range.

Even though they are not necessarily authorized, PMR446 frequencies are harmonized for use across European countries.

High level use of PMR446 frequencies may result in some annoying problems. However, these can be reduced or rectified by changing the frequency of the PMR446. Other systems such as DCS codes and CTCSS tone can as well help in alleviating the problems.

In view of the possible high use of the frequencies and the PMR446’s unlicensed nature, the scheme is not appropriate for individuals who need to gain access to frequencies at specific times and locations or for life use.

These are simple, short-range walkie talkies that conform to the European Union-wide PMR446 standard and can be used by any person in the United Kingdom or European Union without a license. These types of radios are commonly sold in High-Street shops as well as in most radio outlets.

Commonly known as “PMR446s” radios that meet these standards usually have a power output of 0.5watts, meaning that their range is lower compared to the powerful business walkie talkies that are a licensed and which feature power outputs of 4-5 watts. All of them make use of the same eight channels and this causes problems sometimes if a given area has a lot of radio users using these channels.

Licensed Walkie Talkies

Two Way Radio for Business

Licensed handheld walkie talkies can have a power output of 5 watts, but “license free” PMR446 walkie talkies can only have 0.5watt power output. Therefore, the licensed walkie talkies usually have a better signal penetration and better range in buildings.

A majority of businesses prefer using a licensed 2-way walkie talkie system because, in spite of the benefits of license free walkie talkies (PMR 446), they have some downsides (like lower power, a short range and interference) which make them less effective than licensed business radio systems.

Taxi as well as other transport companies, and large sites like factories or hospitals, and businesses situated in a number of different locations are excellent examples of circumstances where a licensed radio system may be a favored option.

These situations require more powerful radios as opposed to hand-held portable walkie talkies with low frequencies. If the system of your radio relies on vehicle-mounted radios or a base station, a licensed radio system is necessary.

Ofcom

If you want start using a radio system in your business, then you will have to get a license from Ofcom. In other words, Ofcom is a company that controls who can transmit on what frequency and where, to ensure that different users don’t interfere with each other.

Business radio system users range from factories and taxi companies, to industrial sites, hospitals, transport operators and care homes. To begin Ofcom’s licensing process there are a number of requirements that a business must first of all fulfil.

Ofcom license is especially important regarding official radio users like police, military, railways, air traffic control and emergency services, railways, etc. Radio systems that meet specific standards can be used without any license from Ofcom. For many walkie talkie users, license free radios will be okay. And if you are in need of a license, it isn’t that expensive or complicated to get one.

The UK simple license is a license issued by Ofcom and gives holders the right to use more powerful radios. It is effectively a license to use powerful radios any place in the UK, using give frequencies which are shared by anyone using this license. This license is easy and quick to apply for, costs about £75 per organization, and is valid for 5 years.

It is the only option for people who need to use their radio systems anywhere in the United Kingdom, and is ideal for most business radios users.

Geographic License

This license provides you with specific frequencies or frequency allocated just for your organization’s use within a given geographical area. The cost of the license varies from moderately cheap in most locations in the UK (about £100 annually), with the cost heightening in key cities, more so London, where the demand for radio frequencies is very high, going for up to more than £500 per year.

Radios that are designed to use dedicated frequencies such as this, should not be used outside of the licensed area, since the same frequency will possibly have been assigned to somebody else and you will therefore be causing interference to them.

UK Business Radio Suppliers License

This is a license for hire companies and radio equipment suppliers. It allows these companies to do short term radio hire via a set of frequencies allotted to radio hire companies. It also allows these companies to provide ‘demo’ radio systems to potential customers and to undertake repairs to radio systems.

When these companies hire out their radio equipment, it’s hired using this license, so that the person hiring it does need to worry about licensing issues.

Summary

The importance of walkie talkies and radios in the UK and other parts of the world cannot be overlooked. Not only are these gadgets important in everyday communication, but they continue to play a very crucial role in the development of other communication tools. A lot of useful information about radios and walkie talkies has been highlighted in this article for the benefit of radio users and the public in general.