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Ham Radio is There in the Midst of Disaster
by Amy Myers
New Kensington, November 13, 2004

In the midst of disaster, when most other communications fail, Ham Radio is often used. It gets the messages through. It is also a fun hobby for many people around the world. There is a local club in New Kensington, called Skyview Radio Society that has been around since 1960. President of Skyview Radio Society for 2004, Bob Bastone has been involved in Amateur Radio for over 25 years.

skyview imageThere are many different views to an amateur on what Ham Radio actually means or is. It is a high-tech hobby that attracts different people from various walks of life. Ham Radio can be used in various ways. A hand-held receiver (HT), can be used to communicate digitally with packet radio and send personal messages back and forth. There is something for everyone in the Ham Radio hobby. Some forms of communications include voice (most widely used today), Radio-teletype, Morse Code (CW), television, and digital modes known as Packet, Pactor and PSK-31.

During the flooding in Pittsburgh last September, Hams provided important assistance when the cellular telephone system quickly became overloaded or out of service. They provided “health and welfare” communications for families separated during the flooding. They also provided communications during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the hurricanes in Florida, says Bastone. Hams provide detailed information to the National Weather Service through SKYWARN, a NWS program. "We are able to see weather events that cannot be picked up on RADAR and relay it to the NWS," Bastone says. Look for a SKYWARN class at Allegheny-Hyde Park Elementary School this spring provided by the NWS and sponsored by Skyview.

Skyview is also starting their own weather program at the club. Bob says that they are assembling a weather station at the club, as well as having guest speakers and arranging tours. Anyone interested in weather and meteorology is welcome to attend.

There are various events that Skyview and Ham Radio operators are involved in such as Providing communications for the Great Race in Pittsburgh, The Vintage Grand Prix, as well as other events. During the races, club members following behind race officials, as a shadow. They get info on runners or other race info and relay it to main communications. There are many fun events for Hams such as contests, ham-fests (Ham Radio flee-markets), kit building and much more. The word "Amateur" simply refers to the fact that these people are all volunteers and do not get paid for their services.

Amateurs practice for emergency communications. When all else fails they are able to use their communications skills– message via voice and digital (text or photos). Some say that Ham Radio is a fading hobby these days and generally there are not many young members. Skyview Radio Society as well as other Amateur Radio clubs are interested in recruiting new members. There is no age limit and the tests are administered by volunteer examiners. Skyview’s youngest member is age 16, although some are as young as eight!

Bob says Ham Radio is "lots of fun" and offers a wide variety of things to do. The club works on projects, antennas, and they talk with people around country and around the world. Skyview Radio Society has contacted close to 300 countries. Some think the Internet has hindered this hobby or lessened the need, but actually coincides with internet. Messages are sent to computers connecting to computers and then to radio!

At Skyview, members work on various projects. One for example, was with the sending out signals with little power (less than light bulb). The group has also built special radio cases.

Bob says that it is easy to get your license. Skyview offers free classes. Books are $20-$30 and a test is $12. You don’t need an electronic background to obtain a license.

"Many 'Hams' are getting pretty old and they need to attract new people. It's not because the hobby is not interesting or important, but because Ham Radio has not been promoted. Most people have no idea what Ham Radio is, what "hams" are about, and don't know why they should care. It's a fantastic hobby/way of life. If you’re the type of person that is interested in why things work the way they do, Amateur Radio is just what you have been looking for." – Bob Bastone, President

Feel free to stop and visit the Skyview clubhouse on any Tuesday evening. The weather group meets on the second Tuesday of each month. All meetings are at 7:30pm. Directions and map to the clubhouse are on the Skyview web site. See what Amateur Radio is all about.