You may have noticed as you drive around that certain cars have a license plate beginning with "VE4". This signifies the driver is a licensed Amateur Radio Operator (affectionately known as hams), and the plate gives his call sign.
Ham radio has been around for a very long time — in fact, since it became possible for radio enthusiasts to build their own equipment, and when ham communication was all done by Morse code. Short-wave radio meant that the hobbyists could communicate with their fellows all over the world, and a Londoner could inform a friend in California that it’s raining in Tokyo.
It is only quite recently that knowledge of Morse has ceased to be a requirement for a license, but in spite of the Internet and the venerability of its medium, ham radio has a role to play even today.
Its enduring value is that each radio set is potentially free-standing, independent of the local power system. Most operators have batteries for their systems although, of course, they are usually plugged in, and the wavelengths they use are reserved by international agreement.
In times of emergency, ham radios can provide communications services that would otherwise be wholly absent. The Emergency Measures Organization uses ham facilities as needed, and practice "emergencies" are run from time to time. One regular use is during the Manitoba Marathon — the hams are there and ready, if inconspicuously.
Ham radio is one of the few long-established hobbies or organizations that is not decaying due to age. Radio is used in many occupations today, and it’s an easy step to start exploring the medium for pleasure after hours.
There are perhaps 800 operators in Winnipeg and millions world-wide. Several organizations in Winnipeg will happily provide information on the subject. The Winnipeg Senior Citizens’ Radio Club VE4WSC Inc. is one: it occupies the second floor and the roof of the fire hall at St. Mary’s and St. Anne’s Road in St. Vital. (The St. Vital Museum is on the ground floor).
The active equipment, the club rooms, the library and technical centre, and (usually) several enthusiasts are all here.
The club gives lessons for the licenses, and visitors are welcome. Call first: 204-233-3122.
Peter Lacey is a community correspondent for St. Vital.