EDITOR’S NOTE: Last night, reporting on two West Seattle Emergency Communication Hubs participating in a citywide preparedness drill, we mentioned amateur-radio operators’ involvement. A new member of the West Seattle Amateur Radio Club board recently offered this story about who they are, what they do, and how you can get involved; this seems like the perfect time to publish it.
(West Seattle ARC photo – board members, from left: Secretary Lance Rasmussen, K7LER; board position 2, Tom Saunders, N7OEP; vice president Curt Black, WR5J; board position 1, Kayla Ware, KG7PJW; president Ken Iverson, AB7X; board position 3, Jim Edwards, WS7JIM; not pictured, treasurer Dave Hillier, AF7CW)
By Jim Edwards
Special to West Seattle Blog
For those who remember Grandpa down in the basement with a set of headphones on, turning a big radio dial, and think that’s what Amateur Radio is, you’re not alone. But in fact, it is a wide-ranging hobby. If you want to hide in the basement, and do that … it’s still an option. But it’s so much more, that anyone can find an area of interest to explore.
When I got into Amateur radio, I did it for the purpose of expanding the communications available to the West Seattle Parade Committee. With small UHF radios, club members are able to communicate with each other through the club repeater located on a City of Seattle tower near the High Point water tanks. I quickly learned that the West Seattle Amateur Radio Club (WSARC) has one of the best-placed repeaters in the city.
The West Seattle Parade route – at one and a half miles, with a large hill in the middle and increasingly taller buildings lining the street – makes it a difficult situation for radio. Seafair Parade Marshals and the radio club that supports the Seafair Parade Marshals struggle with this growing problem each year. WSARC came to the parade committee a couple years ago with an offer to help. The radio net they set up spans the entire parade route, and helps to bring together all of this communication. I wanted to be a part of that, so I studied and got my license.
There are three levels of licensing in Amateur Radio. Each level opens up more of the radio spectrum reserved for Amateur Radio. Each level requires a greater understanding of radio operation, and the electrical know-how to not get yourself in trouble. The three levels are Technician, General, and Amateur Extra. When I took my General test, one of the youngest members of the WSARC club was also updating her license to General. At 9 years old, she managed to complete the test in half the time it took me. And her two older sisters did it even faster.
What can you do with a radio license? A huge part of the hobby is emergency preparedness. Honing those radio skills is why you go out and volunteer at events like the West Seattle Parade. But beyond that, the hobby has much more, such as:
HF radio: Talking to contacts around the world, for fun, or in contests. You can do this with voice, Morse code, or digital formats. You can bounce signals off the atmosphere, a passing satellite, communicate with the International Space Station, even bounce a signal off the moon.
UHF / VHF: Usually short-range communication, but can be extended with repeaters. With a computer connected to the radio, you can send messages and pictures digitally. With APRS you can set up a radio-based tracking system.
Echolink and IRLP: Through an application on a cell phone or computer, a licensed Amateur can broadcast on radio repeaters around the world via the internet.
Mesh networks: Licensed Amateurs can build their own WiFi computer networks that encompass entire neighborhoods.
You can participate with the Seattle Auxiliary Communication Service. You can help out with West Seattle Be Prepared in disaster preparedness. On any night of the week you can tune into radio nets across the city. You can help produce events like The West Seattle Parade, or any of the Seafair parades around the city. The list of events is endless. The level of expertise varies with the many events. The bottom line is, there is something for everyone.
To get into the hobby, you need to take a FCC test. From time to time, WSARC holds training classes to help you prepare for those tests. And they also have the certified personnel to give the tests too. The filing fee for the test is $15, and the license is good for 10 years. And no, you don’t need to learn Morse Code. The costs of the hobby vary, depending what you want to do. But you can get started with a handheld UHF/VHF radio, for under $50. Currently the FCC shows more than 330 Licensed Amateur operators in the West Seattle area alone.
Membership in the West Seattle ARC is $12 a year. We meet weekly on the air on Mondays at 6:30 PM using the club repeater, W7AW. Each month we gather for breakfast on the 3rd Sunday (this month, that’s May 17th) at 9:30 am, at Young’s Restaurant at 9413 16th Ave SW, just a half block north of Roxbury.
If you would like more information, you can send your inquiries to email@example.com.