Amateur Radio Is A Voice Through The Chaos

By: Chris Warren.

A few weeks ago the tiny nation of Nepal experienced two major earthquakes that killed thousands and left tens of thousands, nearly all of whom are poor and didn’t have much in the first place, homeless, injured, and desperate. The world responded with aid, but with Nepal’s communications infrastructure crumbled and broken, rescuers turned to the only communications medium that has never been known to fail because it has no formal infrastructure and does not require commercial power: amateur radio.

The average person thinks amateur (ham) radio is some offbeat anachronism their grandfathers dabbled in. They would be be surprised to know that it is still vibrant and thriving across all age levels. Even today, with modern satellites and fiber optic cables and cell towers all over the place, amateur radio still reigns supreme as the one and only unbreakable worldwide network still chugging along when a calamity takes the high tech stuff offline. It has no peers and no substitutes. There is nothing else even sort-of close.

Amateur radio is remarkable not only for its amazing utility, but even more for the people behind the signals who respond to trouble. They are ordinary citizens stepping up as unpaid volunteers using their own equipment to help people they will likely never meet. Within minutes of the Nepal earthquake, ham operators in India we relaying messages from the disaster area to the outside world. Organized rescuers and the government were depending on the hams because nothing else was working.amateur radio

Here in the United States, amateurs have answered the call when Hurricanes Katrina & Sandy struck our shores as well as for wildfires and floods. On a lesser scale, amateur radio operators are key players in providing communications and support for countless large public events such as parades and marathons. Amateur radio is considered so important, many hospitals and public safety agencies have installed ham equipment at their facilities so it will be at the ready when the unthinkable happens…and the unthinkable has and will happen.

Amateur radio has a low barrier to entry. Anyone who can pass a fairly easy test can be a licensed operator. There is no age limit. From there, some people go all out with elaborate stations costing tens of thousands of dollars. Others simply want basic personal communications and own nothing more than a $50 handheld radio. Amateur radio can be as complex or as simple as your interest and wallet allows.

When I was in junior high, I talked my parents into letting me get a CB radio. All my friends were on CB; it was the social media of its day. It was a lot of fun, but yapping with the locals is interesting for only a little while. At the age of fifteen I earned my amateur operator’s license and scraped up enough cash for a used Heathkit radio and a busted up antenna I had to repair myself to make it useable. Without any internet, I was soon chatting with Asia and Europe and Africa from my bedroom in the middle of the USA. I wasn’t sure of what I was doing, but I knew it was cool. To me it never gets old. Decades later, I am still an active operator and I still feel the same excitement I had as a teenager.

The main problem with modern communications technology is that it depends on many interconnected things to work right, and it always breaks when it is most badly needed. Technology has not been able to come up with anything as reliable or simple as amateur radio. Without the burden of complicated infrastructure or multiple points of failure, ham radio can reach out through any adversity. Earthquakes, hurricanes, ships at sea in peril, tornadoes, floods, forest fires, blizzards, riots, wars…amateur radio is always a soothing voice bringing order to the chaos

7 thoughts on “Amateur Radio Is A Voice Through The Chaos

  1. I do believe that this is the first post I’ve seen on amateur radio and it reminds me of how vital this form of communication can be!
    I loved the movie with Dennis Quaid about communication over the years with a ham radio – fun movie!
    Thanks for much for following my blog!

    1. I’ve been involved with radio since I was a kid. It really is a fun hobby that still serves a very worthwhile public service.

      Thank you for stopping by Twenty First Summer!

  2. Amateur radio is not just a hobby for yapping across town or round the world, nor is it solely a service run by volunteers to reinforce and back up the communications infrastructure during times of emergency or disaster. In fact, it should not be considered a “personal communications” service at all, but a highly technical service that allows the individual a convenient means for experimentation and self-instruction in the radio art.

    Until the early 1960s many if not most “hams” built their own station equipment from scratch, largely by picking through the abundance of WWII surplus military hardware on the market at a fraction of its original cost. Some operators were more interested in building and perfecting transmitters and receivers than actually using them on the air. Amateur radio often served as a gateway to life-long careers in scientific and technical fields as for example, electrical and electronic engineering and physics.

    One of the unique features of amateur radio is that it is multi-faceted, allowing participants to pursue a wide variety of individual interests.

    1. Don, thanks for your comments.

      To your point, ham radio is indeed multi-faceted. This article could have easily been a lot longer and more detailed; as a writer I have to self-edit to stay within my word count and not lose my audience in minutiae.

      The main goal of this article was to give non-hams some high level insight as to why they should care about our hobby. They probably don’t give a damn about bouncing UHF off the moon or how cool it is to be the lucky one who gets picked out of Cook Island pileup, but when society is disrupted and the wires are down in their own neighborhood, ham radio starts to be a lot more relevant.

      For the record, I am one of those guys who used ham radio as a springboard to a solid career. I went from tinkering in my basement as a kid to being a professional communications electronics technician who earns very good living off of what is essentially a pastime. I am one of the few who turned a hobby into a career.

      Thanks again for your comments. Although Twenty First Summer is not a “ham radio blog,” I hope you’ll stop by again.

    1. Thank you so much for your ongoing support of Twenty First Summer.

      For my other readers who may be unfamiliar, please check out and the accompanying Facebook page. Plenty of good ideas flyin’ around out there….

Comments are closed.