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Amateur radio club ‘hams’ it up in Cambridge



In today’s digital age, if it all goes down, the Cambridge Amateur Radio Club (CARC) can still communicate.


Whether it be a hobby or public service, CARC offers a unique experience while communicating with other radio groups globally. Always on standby and ready to help, Amateur radio operators, called ‘hams’ talk to people around the world, participating in contests and building connections.


They can also use their skills to provide communications during emergencies and disasters.


“If a disaster strikes somewhere in the world, for example in Haiti, we have specific frequencies that we can listen to and we can actually help people in the community if they are trying to reach their loved ones,” said Scott Mitchell, club trainer and past president at the Cambridge Amateur Radio Club (CARC).


“We can call them on the radio, and make sure they are ok. We don’t get many requests like that, but we do have ways to get around traditional phone lines that may have been knocked out.”


As a hobby, amateur radio offers people of all ages an opportunity to learn about, work with, and develop radio technology that will allow them to communicate with other ‘hams’ around the world.


Mitchell has been a member of the club for the last six years.


“We’ve made a few changes to the club, to bring it into the 2020s,” Mitchell said.


The Cambridge Amateur Radio Club, established in 1964, is one of the oldest in the area.


Learning and teaching are an important part of CARC. Members learn about different operating systems, radios, and antennas and often take or teach classes. The group meets regularly and older members, Mitchell says, are always willing to share their experience with newer ‘hams’.


“Right now, there are 25 members. They range in age from 15 to 85. We have a lot of youth that are getting interested in it now. Some might be thinking about university down the road, and this gets them involved in electronics and the physics part of that,” Mitchell said.


Mitchell says much of what is learned is centred around STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math.


“From the science side, you learn about radio waves, frequencies, how they get transmitted, and how you make long distance contacts. For the technology part, you have the radios, but you can also do voice, and digital modes like slow scan TV, and pulling in pictures from the international space station,” Mitchell said.


“For the engineering portion, it’s about learning about antennas, how to build them, make them work, and figuring out how high they need to be. For math, it’s not so much in the basic class, but when you move to the advanced class, there’s a lot of math involved. Some have compared it to a first-year physics course in university.”


The Cambridge Amateur Radio Club, a non-for-profit organization, uses radio waves for local communications and long-distance communications. Frequencies are assigned by the Innovation Science Economic Development Canada.


“They are our governing body and give out the licences. To get a licence, you start out with a basic course, you write your test, and then you can take a morse code class or an advanced course, or do both, to get your full licence,” Mitchell said.


“We do different modes, long distance to local distance and everything in between. We send pictures over the air waves, making digital communications, any mode of communication we have we will be doing.”


Whether offering a workshop or responding to a call for help, CARC is always eager to share its skills with the community.


“The local scouts group approached us this past year saying they have a ‘scouts on the air day’. We were able to make contacts with them on a local frequency and helped them track the international space station because that was something that they were really interested in,” Mitchell said.


Once a year, radio clubs from around the world take part in a Field Day Contest to see how well a radio club can operate off the grid.


“This year, Field Day will be in Valens in June. We go off-grid for two days, and we try to make as many contacts as possible. It’s a world-wide event and we try to make as many contacts as possible. It’s not a disaster simulation as much as it is about preparedness, so that if something did happen, we know that we can still communicate and make sure our equipment works properly,” Mitchell said.


During COVID-19, the club has had to pivot from in-person to Zoom meetings.


“We ran training classes on Zoom. It was a bit of a challenge, since we haven’t done that before but overall, it worked for us. We still managed to get people licensed which was great,” Mitchell said.


Amateur radio was not always a part of Mitchell’s life.


“At work, my manager at the time, was an amateur radio operator. I thought this is so cool! And that’s how I got started,” Mitchell said.


“I have moved on from the local frequencies to the international frequencies. I also do a lot of slow-scan TV, which is sending pictures over the airwaves. I have received them from as far away as Portugal and Brazil.”


Today, Mitchell enjoys working with digital modes.


“There is a certain mode where you send your call sign to a particular part of the world. The farthest I’ve heard from in a 12 second transmission is Japan,” Mitchell said.


CARC is always ready to welcome new members.


“We are looking forward to running another basic course in the fall. Amateur radio offers something different and unique. And there is always something new to learn,” Mitchell said.

“If you are someone who loves to talk to people, there’s always someone on the other end who will talk. If you are someone who just wants to send pictures, you can through your keyboard. Just hook a radio up to your computer and away you go. The great thing is that there is something for everyone.”


For more information about the Cambridge Amateur Radio Club, visit info@cambridgeham.ca or here.


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