Hobbyists can reach people throughout the globe
By Dan Garcia
When Dan Fisher turns on his ham radio, which he keeps in an armoire in his bedroom, he can contact people all over the world.
With barely five watts of power, he talks to people in England, France, Iceland and other countries.
Mr. Fisher, a Palm Bay police officer when he's not hamming it up, recently chatted with an Air Canada pilot who was cruising at 35,000 feet over North America.
Mr. Fisher, who has also talked with people in Antarctica, keeps a sort of baseball card collection of the various "handles" with whom he has communicated around the globe.
Other ham radio operators haven't been limited by the bonds of Earth. Many of them have chatted with astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
In the modern age of the Internet, mobile phones and worldwide communications systems, the old-fashioned ham radio remains relevant because it retains its unique capability.
When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, and when a tsunami devastated Japan, ham radio operators provided authorities with vital communications links, helping to reach victims and save lives.
When natural catastrophes strike, they can disable communications towers and electric lines. But ham radios operate on air waves.
"Hurricane Katrina knocked down cell phone towers and radio towers," Mr. Fisher said. "Its police departments had no communications because they had lost the radio towers."
On Dec. 3, the National Weather Service on Croton Road will recognize Brevard County ham radio operators for their contributions during weather emergencies.
On Dec. 10, the Weather Service will hold an open house, including a ham radio demonstration.
Mr. Fisher, public information officer for the Platinum Coast Amateur Radio Society, said that on some days, traffic on his radio may be sparse.
But on other nights, the radio crackles with conversation.
"When I turn on the radio, it's like going fishing, because you never know what you're going to catch," Mr. Fisher said. "You might start it up and there's just nothing biting. You might spend a couple of hours on the radio and come home with an empty bucket.
"But you might go out and, holy cow, they're jumping all over the place. Every time I throw the line out, I get a bite," he said.
Mr. Fisher said that whether man communicated with smoke signals, the Morse Code telegraph, the party-line telephone, or today's mobile phones and computerized e-mail, man has always had the need to communicate.
That's why ham radios are as much of a hobby as a vital link. Communicators like Mr. Fisher enjoy talking with other hobbyists around the world.
"Ham radio, first and foremost, is a hobby," Mr. Fisher said. "There are 700,000 amateur radio licensees in the United States alone. Brevard County is home to nearly 3,000 licensees.
"I have a ham radio at home, in my car and in my patrol car," he said. "I can set one up on the beach and talk across the ocean on five watts, which we call barefooting."
Mr. Fisher marvels: "In a way, ham radios are the original wireless technology."
So where did the name "Ham" come from?
Mr. Fisher said professionals who sent Morse Code messages became highly skilled at it, but amateurs who sent similar signals tended to whack away at the telegraph in a ham-handed way.
"They called the amateurs ham-fisted operators, and it was a derogatory term," Mr. Fisher said. "The irony is that nobody uses Morse Code anymore except for hams."
For more information, visit the Platinum Coast Amateur Radio Society's website at www.pcars.org.