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Ham Radio as Necessary as Ever
Every day, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern, ONTARS—the Ontario Amateur Radio Service is operational at the bottom end of the 80-metre band. The net control, or host changes hourly. Often, the net control is someone who is blind or partially sighted, or, in ham radio jargon, a whitecaner.
Now that cell phones and the internet are so much a part of daily life, you might well ask whether ham radio hasn’t outlived its usefulness. When the earthquake rattled Haiti to its core in January of 2010, though, it was next to impossible for survivors to communicate with the rest of the world, at least for the first few days, because cell towers had crumbled, and the internet wasn’t available because power had been knocked out. The only people who were able to communicate were those who relied on amateur radio.
Very much the same condition existed when another earthquake shook northern Japan in March of 2011.
Those of us who are blind or partially sighted are prohibited from serving our country in the armed forces, because everyone who is allowed to join must be able to bear arms if necessary. Amateur radio, however, continues to be a valuable service that we can render.
A few years ago, Industry Canada, formerly the Department of Communications, decreed that being able to send and receive Morse code at twelve words per minute was no longer a requirement. Some hams feel, as I do, that that move wasn’t particularly wise, because nothing cuts through atmospheric interference like Morse code. On the other hand, removing Morse code as a prerequisite has made it considerably easier for those interested to obtain a ham radio license. In addition, federally appointed examiners don’t require those of us who are blind or partially sighted to draw the diagrams that our sighted counterparts are expected to. What is required of anyone wishing to acquire a license, however, is a good knowledge of both basic radio theory, and the regulations that govern all hams in Canada.
So whether you get a thrill out of talking to people living on the other side of the world, or providing a listening ear for those who live in or travel through your community, or perhaps becoming a member of ARES—the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, remember that amateur radio is still as necessary as it ever was, and you’ll be providing a much needed service to your community and your country. Get in touch with either your local ham radio club or the CNIB amateur radio club, and get prepared to never really know what will happen when you press that microphone button. Oh, and meeting new friends is definitely a fringe benefit.