“Become a Ham and Discover Worldwide Friends,” New Era, Apr. 1972, 38
“MARS calling for the home of Pfc. Gerald Jensen.”
“This is his father speaking.”
“Pfc. Jensen is waiting at the DaNang, Viet Nam, MARS station to speak with you by means of amateur radio-phone patching.”
“Louise! Pick up the other extension; Gerry’s calling from DaNang.”
“Hi, Mom and Dad! Sure, I’m fine, only a little homesick, and …”
Thousands of similar phone patches and telegrams are radioed monthly to and from servicemen and government employees all over the world. These messages are relayed at no cost through a worldwide network of amateur radio operators who are members of the Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS).
An amateur radio operator, commonly called a ham, is licensed to operate his radio transmitter from his home for personal pleasure or service. Usually ham radio operators talk with hundreds of the other half million hams each year and become personally acquainted with many of them. Radio amateurs talk across towns, nations, and oceans at all hours.
Imagine yourself a radio amateur! Each time you turn on your set you embark on a new adventure. This may include conversations with amateurs from South America, Switzerland, New Zealand, Rhodesia, or perhaps a state such as Colorado. Some amateurs have had the thrill of talking with explorers on the polar ice caps.
When two ham operators talk on their radios, they consider each other friends and exchange personalized cards called QSL cards to confirm their conversation and friendship. Each ham proudly posts these cards on his transmitter-room walls as evidence of his contacts around the world.
The friends hams make come from all vocational walks of life, but whether a physician or a plumber or student, they are all part of a worldwide brotherhood of radio amateurs. Occasionally amateurs find themselves talking with famous persons like King Hussein of Jordan or Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. A QSL card from such a famous person is thrilling to add to your collection on the walls of your “ham shack.”
Missionary-minded Latter-day Saint radio amateurs perform a public relations service for the Church among the hams they contact. They use missionary QSL cards with beautiful, full-color scenes of the Tabernacle Choir or the temples instead of the plain GSL postcards most hams use. The LDS-QSL cards tell about the choir or the purpose of the temples, inviting the ham to make contact with the Church. When posted in ham shacks of nonmember hams, these LDS-QSL cards provide a point of conversation and aid the missionaries in gaining entry to that home. Such cards are produced as a missionary project by Salt Lake City’s Monument Park Stake high priests quorum with WA7LJU as project leader.
Some hams unintentionally find themselves part of an exciting event in the news. David Skousen, while a high school student in Salt Lake City, recorded on tape the beeps emitted by the first of the Soviet satellites. His recording, which included the malfunction and burnout of the satellite, was used on the news show of a national U.S. TV network.
A feeling of accomplishment is realized by those radio amateurs who construct their own rig and find to their delight, and perhaps surprise, that it really works. However, a similar excitement is realized while “on the air” with professionally engineered equipment, which is available both assembled or in kits. You may have listened in on a shortwave conversation on your radio, but that is only a small part of the thrill of activating your own transmitter and talking with the station you heard.
In addition to being a hobby with an endless variety of service, competition, and adventure, certain personal benefits can be realized, and these include learning electronics. The intense personal interest radio amateurs develop in their hobby has produced many radio industry executives and electronics engineers who were attracted to radio as a career because of their ham radio experience. Today almost half of all licensed radio amateurs are employed in communications electronics. An example of a young radio amateur who reached the top is Arch L. Madsen, President of Bonneville International, which operates all of the Church’s radio and television stations.
The experience gained in amateur radio is a natural stepping stone to a professional career that offers the development of personal interests into stimulating and rewarding work. Some amateurs are owners and managers of their own electronics manufacturing firms. Others are scientists, design engineers, laboratory technicians and operating engineers for broadcasting and television stations, to name a few. Furthermore, the rapid advances in electronics theory and manufacturing practices are providing expansion into new industrial and consumer goods. This continually advancing field is one that has offered unparalleled opportunities for those faced with selecting a profession.
The knowledge of electronics that radio amateurs gain is also helpful when a household appliance such as a radio or even your auto ignition requires repair. Repair expenses, even of complicated devices, can be avoided or reduced by the person who knows the simple troubleshooting techniques learned in amateur radio study.
Amateur radio operators have been invaluable in emergencies. For example, within twenty minutes after the disastrous San Fernando-Sylmar (California) earthquake that took place at 6:01 A.M. on February 9, 1971, Howard Collister, WA6CWF, activated the ham network called WESTCARS. In less than an hour after the quake, more than a thousand volunteer amateur radio stations from Panama to Alaska were monitoring the WESTCARS frequency, ready to pass messages. Since telephone service in the area was disrupted, the radio amateurs with mobile equipment traced, located, and reported the condition of patients who had been removed from the damaged hospitals to other facilities. WESTCARS also answered requests for information from newspapers, radio and television stations, and worried relatives of people living in the quake area. In a period of five days this ham network transmitted in excess of 8,000 health and welfare messages. They continued with radio assistance to the affected areas for two weeks until telephone connections were restored.
In order that similar emergency work may be done throughout the world, an unofficial “net” is being organized to include amateurs in all the stakes and missions of the Church. When this net becomes operable, information concerning Church members in the vicinity of a disaster will be more easily available, and conversations with Saints from the “isles of the sea” will be a daily routine.
In the USA, the British Commonwealth, and most other countries, anyone—boy, girl, man, or woman—can become an amateur radio operator regardless of previous schooling or experience. Although the exact requirements vary from one country to another, they usually include (1) proper citizenship, (2) knowledge of the laws governing amateur service, (3) ability to send and receive the international Morse code, and (4) an elementary knowledge of radio theory.
An easy way to start is to enroll in one of the classes for beginning amateurs that many radio clubs sponsor and teach. Information about these classes may be obtained from a ham in your neighborhood, from a local radio store, or from the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), Newington, Connecticut 06111, USA.
Practice the Morse code and study the laws and theory with a companion, preferably someone who is already an amateur radio operator. Since there are 400,000 hams in English-speaking countries, there probably are several in your community who would be delighted to help you. Your bishop or stake mission president may know the Latter-day Saint hams in your area.
Even though some effort is necessary to prepare for the government examination, you should feel capable of doing it. Although a challenge, many people find the preparation enjoyable.
With only a little effort you can master the Morse code at the five words per minute (wpm) required for the novice and technicians “tickets” in the USA. With a little perseverance you can develop your speed to the thirteen wpm required for the general and advanced classes in the USA or the ten wpm required for the amateur class in Canada.
You need not be an electronics genius to understand how a capacitor, a transistor, or a vacuum tube operates. However, your development in electronics may cultivate an undiscovered genius or talent in you; many beginning radio amateurs have experienced this discovery.
To assist beginning amateurs, the ARRL publishes a packet of booklets you will find helpful: How To Become a Radio Amateur explains the fundamentals of radio; The Radiotelegraph Code lists the code letters and explains how to associate them with sounds; The Radio Amateur’s License Manual includes questions similar to those in the U.S. examinations along with detailed answers to the questions; and Operating an Amateur Radio Station explains how to make those contacts. The packet of these four books is available in local radio stores or direct from ARRL for $2.50.
In order to prevent interference with government, commercial AM and FM and television stations, business radio, amateur radio, and aircraft and marine radio, each station operator must understand where, when, and how a radio transmitter may be used. An elementary knowledge of radio theory is required so the operator can set up, operate, and make minor repairs to his station. In the early years of radio, amateurs had to design and build their entire station, but in recent years most hams use professionally engineered and commercially produced equipment. A knowledge of how to prevent your signal from being picked up by radios, hi-fi’s, stereos, and television sets is essential in order to maintain a pleasant rapport with the neighbors.
The value of the Morse code was not eliminated by the invention of the telephone. The code is used commonly not only in amateur radio but also in government services and in marine radio service. Although more time is required to relay a message in code, the propagation of code signals is less subject to interference than voice signals. You may already know that dididit dahdahdah dididit in Morse code means SOS (save our souls) and that when it is repeated several times it can be understood easily even when the voice call MAYDAY cannot be heard at all.
In the early days of World War II a radio operator who was expert with the code intercepted an order to a German submarine to sink the Queen Mary, a British passenger ship. The operator relayed the information of the planned attack to the proper authorities, the ship’s course was changed, and a disaster was prevented.
The cost of obtaining a radio license is minimal. In the United States there is no filing fee for the Novice license, but it is good for only two years. The initial expense is merely the ARRL beginner’s packet. In the USA there are five license grades available to beginning amateurs. The Novice, Technician, and Conditional class tests may be administered by a radio amateur from your neighborhood, but the General and Advanced class examinations are administered only by government examiners. Except for the Novice, all are renewable every five years and have a filing and renewal fee of $9.00. No age restrictions are imposed in the USA.
In Canada, to become a radio amateur you must be fifteen years of age, pass a written, an oral, and a code test. Excerpts of the Canadian laws and other information valuable to Canadian amateurs are available from the Department of Communications; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The Ham Handbook for Beginners, which presents the electronics theory necessary to pass the amateur grade examination, is available for $4.10 from the Arta Publishing Company. The license fee is ten dollars per year.
Ham radio can be an inexpensive hobby. It is an educational experience and a chance to meet friends around the world. It’s a small world when your QSL cards show contacts in Japan, Australia, Germany, Canada, and Florida. It is a missionary tool for the Church and presents a quick, exciting, and inexpensive way to cross the miles.