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A news item published in The Hindu Metro Plus (Chennai Edition).

April 25, 2009

HAM As Hobby

Hams in Chennai have set up a website to encourage more people to join their community.

When the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were hit by the tsunami, all regular communication systems stopped functioning.

But for Hams (many of them from Chennai), who were having a DX event at the time of the calamity, the islands would have been totally cut off. They turned reporters and let the mainland know just what had to be done.

As a tradition, Hams step in and offer their services when there is a natural disaster. But, they definitely don’t want another natural calamity to demonstrate the usefulness of their hobby. Which is why local Hams have created a blogsite — Besides keeping Hams around the world posted about what’s happening within the community, it seeks to attract others to the hobby.

Thanks to blogs such as the one titled ‘Becoming a Ham Operator in India”, the site has had close to 2,600 hits in three months. Out of these curious visitors, 25 are taking the exam to acquire the licence (from the Wireless Planning Commission) to be a Ham operator.

Ham examinations are conducted every month in the four major metros; in most other cities, they are held every two or four months. In recent years in Chennai, not many have taken these exams. One reason is the lack of efforts by Hams to make the hobby attractive to the unconverted.

Another (according to some Hams) is the time taken to get a Ham licence.

The exam depends on the kind of Ham you want to be. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of learning Morse Code, you have to settle for the ‘Restricted Ham licence’. After passing a theory exam and clearing police verification, you will be allowed to use VHF (covering a radius of 100 km) and UHF (50 km) sets. Intrinsically, these sets are good only for line-of-sight communication, but with the help of repeaters, they can cover more distances.

Thanks to a repeater in Yercaud and another in Kodai, a VHF operator in Chennai can connect with other Hams living around South India.

Acquiring Grade I, Grade II and Advanced Ham licences call for more effort — a mastery over Morse Code and theory, plus clearing police verification. These licences enable you to operate HF sets and communicate with Hams around the world.

If you think you were done with exams once for all when you left college, you can opt to be just a Short Wave Listener (SWL). No exams for this licence. It authorises you to be just a listener on the Ham waves.

It is commonly believed that amateur radios have become obsolete with the advent of mobile phones. But, Vipin Shankar says the Ham network is more stable, rugged and fail-safe. “Even if a VHF repeater fails, HF radio waves, which travel through the ionosphere, can be used,” says Shaikh Sadaqathullah.

It is infrastructure-independent. All you need is a Ham set and a licence to operate it — you don’t incur any additional expenditure. In other words, it is unlimited call time.

Chennai Hams eyeball meet on 12th April 2009 at Alwarpet. Balu (VU3CBM) Deepan (VU2DPN) VU2? Vipin Shankar (SWL)

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