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‘When all else fails, ham radio doesn't’: Radio club connects Burlington to the world and beyond

Ham radio is all about connections.

Club members right here in Burlington connect to other operators all over the world and even to astronauts in the International Space Station. The technology, which continues to inspire a passionate group of users, has managed to remain relevant even in the era of email and cellphones due to its reliability.

“When all else fails, ham radio doesn't, and we saw that just recently in this Rogers thing. What am I going to do? I haven't got a telephone. How am I going to talk? Well, ham radio people were talking to each other,” said Tom Montgomery, a member of the Burlington Amateur Radio Club (BARC).

Formed in 1972, BARC has grown from just six members to a 180-person club. Members are primarily located within the city, but some hail from much farther away, including one in Abu Dhabi.

Club member Yves Isabelle, who lives in Burlington, said he has made use of his radio on the other side of the world.

“Just before COVID, like the month before we went into lockdown, my wife and I were travelling. We're in Australia, New Zealand. I had my little hand-held with me. I was able to use my hand-held connect up to a repeater there that was connected to the internet, and I had a conversation with four guys from the club here in Burlington, from Sydney, Australia,” said Yves.

BARC members say there’s a lot of different reasons to get into the hobby. Some people like tinkering with machines, while others like talking to people around the world.

The club is also social on a local level with regular coffee meetups where members tend to chat and offer support to one another.

“It's not a hobby of electronics people. It's a hobby that involves electronics, but it's so broad based. Some people just like to talk on the radio. They buy a radio. They have no idea how it works. They get a licence, so they have some idea. But then they never build, they never tinker. They just talk to people all over the world,” Montgomery said.

The group also supports local emergency services by providing equipment and expertise when called upon.

Yves said while the equipment required to get into amateur radio may be intimidating to some, there are a lot of resources for those who are interested.

“As much as it sounds complicated, it's not. In this hobby, YouTube is your friend. There's always somebody who's done it from scratch and done it right. Everybody uses it — the technology keeps changing,” said Yves.

For anyone interested in learning more, BARC members will be at the Burlington Centre’s (777 Guelph Line) HUB Room from Aug. 27 to the 29. Club members will be on hand answering questions and offering coffee.


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