New hams needed

Published 10:46 pm Wednesday, February 2, 2011

You don’t have to be a technology whiz, a smooth talker or a Morse code expert to be an amateur radio operator.

If you are, though, that’s fine too — you’re still welcome to sign up for a class on amateur radio beginning later this month.

“It’s like a hallway full of doors,” Ray Haring, a member of the Western Tidewater Radio Association, said of amateur radio. “There’s so many different things you can do with it.”

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The association is holding a class each Wednesday for seven weeks beginning Feb. 16. The evening classes will be held at the Windsor Volunteer Fire Department. They are free, but advance registration is required.

Amateur radio, sometimes called ham radio, began just after 1900, Haring said.

“It was a bunch of amateur-type electronics people experimenting with radio,” he said.

Signals initially were transmitted in Morse code, but soon progressed to allow voice communications across the neighborhood or around the world.

“I’ve had an opportunity to talk to people on every continent,” Haring said. “It involves no infrastructure. I have a radio, and I have an antenna, and that’s it. It just goes out of the antenna and around the world.”

Haring initially got involved in amateur radio, because he had always been fascinated by radio, particularly public safety radio such as the system firefighters and police officers use.

The most basic equipment to become an amateur radio operator can be purchased for less than $200, Haring said.

He encouraged people to sign up for the classes, because amateur radio operators are a vital public service.

“It’s kind of interesting,” he said. “But there’s also a community service component to it. Amateur radio operators serve as a backup communications network when everything else goes down.”

Even firefighters and police officers rely on a network that requires computers, electricity and infrastructure to operate, Haring said. If any part of the system fails, amateur radio operators serve as a backup link.

In fact, the Western Tidewater Radio Association hosts a field day once a year where they set up all their equipment in a field and operate for 24 hours to prove they can do it, Haring said.

Though the classes are free, students are encouraged — but not required — to purchase a textbook that goes with the course. A required Federal Communications Commission exam will be held at the volunteer fire department on April 2.

The classes will begin at 6:30 p.m. each night and wrap up no later than 9 p.m. To sign up for the classes, call Haring at 406-3964 or email him at