Category Archives: Special Interest

When the Internet and Cell Phone Networks Go Down

By  Marcia Wendorf    March 09, 2020

When the Internet and Cell Phone Networks Go Down, Amateur Radio Operators Step Up

Preppers have been saying it for years: amateur radio might soon be your only way to communicate.

The Northshore School District, which serves 22,000 students in the Seattle area, announced that they are closing all of their 36 schools due to the COVID-19 virus. Northshore Superintendent Michelle Reid said that classes will be conducted online starting on Monday, March 9, 2020.

Twitter has instructed its almost 5,000 employees to work from home, and Microsoft Corp. and Alphabet Inc. (Google) have done the same for their employees in the Seattle area.

Amazon Inc., which employs 50,000 people in the Seattle area, has instructed its employees to telecommute, and Apple just requested that the 12,000 employees at its Apple Park campus in California also work from home.

With students studying from home, and employees working from home, our internet and cell phone networks are going to be stretched thin, and this can impact your ability to reach emergency responders if you need to.

During 9/11, when cell networks went down due to overloading, and police and fire command centers were destroyed, amateur or “ham” radio operators stepped into the breach and kept emergency responders communicating with one another and with the public.

The term “ham”, as in “ham-handed”, was applied to new, wireless telegraphy operators by wired telegraphy operators to imply that their Morse code skills were poor.

What is amateur radio?

Amateur radio is different from commercial radio, public safety radio such as police and fire, and professional radio used by taxis, airplanes, and ships. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets aside blocks of radio frequencies for satellites, emergency services, military, commercial aircraft, commercial radio stations, and mobile phones.

Amateur radio operators are allocated 27 bands, or groups of frequencies, starting at 1.8 Megahertz (MHz), which is just above the broadcast radio frequencies, and going all the way up to 275 Gigahertz. FM radio stations have numbers on the dial between 88 and 108, which signifies their frequency of 88 MHz to 108 MHz. AM radio stations are always between 540 and 1600 KHz.

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These blocks of frequencies have different attributes, such as the amount of power that can be used to transmit a signal, the equipment, and antennas that can be used, whether repeaters are allowed, and the available frequencies.

Amateur radio can transmit voice, text, images, data, and Morse code across distances ranging from a city, a region, a country, a continent, the entire globe, or even out into space. Amateur radio can access satellites, the International Space Station, and can even bounce off the Moon.

Amateur radio is administered by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is an agency of the United Nations. It is the oldest global international organization. Individual governments regulate amateur radio within their own borders, and issue station licenses and call signs.

In the U.S., the American Radio Relay League (AARL) is the national association for amateur radio, and it has over 161,000 members. ARRL provides books, news, support, information, special operating events, continuing education classes and other benefits for its members.

Types of amateur radio

There are several types of amateur radio:

  • Amateur (ham) radio – 1.8 – 1300 MHz with gaps, base stations can be up to 1,500 watts, while a typical handheld ham radio is 5 – 8 watts, there are few restrictions on antennas and you will need a license
  • Citizen’s Band (CB) – 26 – 27 MHz (HF), 11-meter band, 40 channels, power is limited to 4 watts, you don’t need a license, CB requires larger antennas due to its longer wavelength compared to VHF/UHF, and CB is susceptible to interference from baby monitors
  • Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) – 462 – 467 MHz (UHF), 22 channels, while technically two different types, their frequencies overlap, and in 2017, the FCC changed its rules making the two types even more similar; the FRS block was proposed by RadioShack in the 1990s and led to the two-pack walkie-talkies that were popular, farmers and businesses use GMRS, while you don’t need a license for FRS, you do need one for GMRS but there is no test, GMRS can operate at up to 50 watts but most radios are 3 – 5 watts, GMRS allows repeaters
  • Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) – 151 – 154 MHz (VHF), 5 channels, created in 2000, you don’t need a license, power is limited to 2 watts, some devices pair with your cell phone to send short text messages without using the cell network, allowing for a peer-to-peer radio network.

Of these, ham is the only way to listen to and talk to local emergency services. CB, FRS, GMRS, and MURS don’t work on emergency broadcast and local emergency responder frequencies.

Frequency and wavelength

Frequency is the number of waves per second, and it is described in Hertz (Hz) which is one wave. When you see k, M, or G in front of Hz, it represents kiloMega, and Giga, where kilo is 1,000, Mega is one million, and Giga is one billion. A radio frequency of 300 MHz would be 300,000,000 waves per second.


Radio spectrum, Source: NASA

Wavelength is the physical distance of one point on a wave, such as its peak, to the same point on the next wave. Wavelength and frequency are in inverse proportion, that is, the higher the frequency, the lower the wavelength.

High Frequency (HF) is 3 – 30 MHz, Very High Frequency (VHF) is 30 – 300 MHz, and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) is 300 MHz to 3 GHz. Of the 27 amateur radio bands, the most popular are:

Range Band (Meter) MHz
HF 80 3.5 – 4.0
HF 40 7.0 – 7.3
HF 30 10.1 – 10.15
HF 20 14.0 – 14.350
HF 17 18.068 – 18.168
HF 15 21.0 – 21.450
HF 12 24.890 – 24.990
HF 10 28.0 – 29.70
VHF 6 50 – 54
VHF 2 144 – 148
UHF 70 cm 430 – 440

Most amateur radio is focused on just two bands: 2-meter / 144-148 MHz and 70-centimeter / 430-440 MHz. These two bands are what are used by local emergency radio services, such as the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, and Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT).

Radio channels are like URLs, you don’t describe a website as its IP address (, instead, you describe it as “” When people use Channel 19 on CB radio, they’re actually referring to the frequency 27.185 MHz.

The attributes of wavelengths are that longer wavelengths travel farther, and smaller wavelengths can penetrate buildings. Since the higher the radio frequency, the smaller the wavelength, the VHF 2-meter band might travel farther, but the UHF 70-cm band is better at finding its way through windows and doors.

The largest wavelengths travel farther than the horizon because they bounce off of the atmosphere, mountains, and even the Moon. Since an FCC Technician’s License, which you’ll learn about below, doesn’t permit HF, VHF is most popular among amateur radio enthusiasts.

When Hurricane Maria wiped out cellular networks in Puerto Rico in 2017, ham radio operators working with VHF mobile radios and talking on the 2-meter band allowed emergency responders to communicate with one another.

Radio repeaters

What gives ham radio its range are repeaters, which are somewhat akin to cell phone towers. Repeaters receive a nearby signal, then rebroadcast it with more power and clarity.

Repeaters are usually located on top of a hill or a tall building, and they are free to use. They are typically created and maintained by a local ham radio club or operator. One repeater can move your signal up to 50 miles, but if it is handed off by a number of repeaters, your signal can span an entire country.

A repeater can’t receive and broadcast on the same frequency at the same time. Therefore, they use two different frequencies that are slightly offset from one another, one to receive, and one to broadcast.

While some repeaters have solar or generator power, most rely on the electrical grid, so in cases of extreme emergency, these may not be available.

Ham radio setups

All amateur radios are comprised of a transceiver that both sends and receives radio signals, a power supply, and an antenna. The three types of amateur radios are:

  • Handheld Radios – also called Handitalkies or HTs, the most popular are the Baofeng UV-5R and BF-F8HP.
  • Mobile Radios – are installed in a vehicle such as a CB radio, they are typically mounted in a vehicle’s dashboard, glove box, or under a seat, and they have a corded microphone that runs to the driver’s seat. Mobile radios have at least double the signal range of a handheld radio because of more power from the battery and a larger antenna. The antenna can attach to a car’s hood, roof, or tailgate, and magnetic mounts are popular because you can remove the antenna when you don’t need it.
  • Base Station Radios – are typically installed in your home and have a large, immobile antenna. The antenna is the most critical piece of a base station, and it should be at least 1/4 the size of the wavelength you want to use. The UHF 70-cm band only needs a 7-inch antenna.

Ham radio licenses

There are three levels of ham licenses, and each requires a test and lasts for 10 years. The levels differ by how many frequencies you can have access to.

  • Technician (entry) – gives you access to amateur bands above 30 MHz, including the popular 2-meter and 70-centimeter bands
  • General – gets you into the lower frequency, longer wavelength High Frequency bands that are better for long distances
  • Extra (advanced) – allows you to transmit on any amateur frequency.

MARCO mini Dxpeditions by Jay Garlitz AA4FL

Adventure is a more appropriate way to describe the DX trip BRARA member Jay Garlitz was just on. The Medical Amateur Radio Council holds its annual business meeting at Xenia on even years but on odd years the location is the choice of the President. Holding that office and being odd I crafted a four day business meeting in Tampa this year followed by an eight day cruise out of their port. Four ports of call were made by the Carnival Miracle and it was a miracle MARCO was able to get through the logistics needed to operate DX on land in three ports.

Twelve cruise cabins held fifteen hams and nine spouses who embarked with all the documentation needed to hold special operating events in Belize as V31D, at Roatan Isle of Bahia in Honduras as HQ9D, and on Grand Cayman as ZF2D. All we needed was kismet that local plans, the weather, customs, cruise ship tenders, propagation, security, getting back on ship in time for departure, and Murphy would all cooperate. With the cruise ship only being in port 7-9 hours in each location; but when debarkation/embarkation, tender time, transport to operating location, and station set-up/breakdown was factored in; that meant only 3-5 hours of radio operation at each special event location!

No on-ship operation was pursued other than 2m HT use. So why tackle this less than ideal operating task? The bonding experience for a group of medical hams was invaluable and the publicity generated could be a boon to membership growth. We were crazy enough to try and succeed but we did bring our own Psychiatrist along just in case! Each DX location has a different set of operators as members also enjoyed the holiday operation but there were enough time slots for all that desired them. Planned times of operation were off 1-2 hours in UTC as the published cruise literature did not state that Tampa time was being used for arrival and departure in each port rather than going by local time.. NFDXA members were on standby and many worked us, with some of the best signals heard!

V31D was activated at a rental unit about 8 miles north of port up the coast, just off the water. The station was set-up on the rooftop under cover of a three story building with dipoles gently sloping down to trees on the property. HF1 was an ICOM IC-706/markIIg for 20m phone and CW operation. Station two was an ICOM IC-7000 primarily used for FT8 on 17m. Our co-hosts were a former mayor of Belize City and a former jet pilot in thee Belize forces, and they were of great help in planning. Ropes were pre-positioned in the trees for antenna support and help on the ground as present for getting the antennas hung in place. We quickly got on the air in an early to mid morning start, for almost five hours of operation. Propagation on 20m was poor and noise levels high until it was closing time when conditions were improving. FT8 on 17m was active with signals decoding throughout. After getting the operators familiar with the equipment at this first port of call we made 114 QSO’s with hams in 19 countries.

HQ9D was a short operation. The QTH was a diving and eco lodge 35 minutes from port, necessitated as the port is on the south side of Roatan at the base of a mountain. The NW coast location on the water we chose afforded great take-offs for NA, SA and Europe. The equipment used was the same as on V31D but operating time was less than three hours. The shack was set-up on the balcony of a second floor cabana facing the water. Lodge staff assisted with the antenna placement. The top floor of the building had a yoga studio perfect for hanging the antennas from, in Zen. Propagation was better and afforded us 122 contacts in 6 countries.

ZF2D was a much different operation. We had the use of the guest station of ZF1EJ, the Cayman Island Radio Club. We brought along our IC-7000 for 17m FT8 but had two of his radios for 20m CW and 20m SSB, Three stations were on the air at a time and each had its own tower and multiband antenna that one would salivate over! A log periodic at 100 feet and a Pro-67 at 70 feet were accompanied by a C3 somewhere in the 50 foot range, Station owner Eden ZF1EJ operates from 630 KHz to 6m and has an impressive antenna farm well beyond the antennas we used. Phil ZF1PB and John ZF1DJ spent the day with us as well. In four hours of operation we made 315 Q’s in 24 countries.

With the experience of planning these expeditions one fact is abundantly clear, it is much better to fly to a Caribbean Dx location and rent a super station. HQ9X is available on Roatan and sleeps ten (was not available for our visit). ZF1EJ allows visitors to use his guest shack, J6 has a great rental that sleeps six and has a fully equipped station, a location I am headed to for CQWW phone this year. With these plus more DX turn-key rentals available, there are opportunities for us OMs, OBs and YLs to take BRARA DX trips.

YL 33: The First Lady Ham Radio Operators, and their Awesome Legacy

by Ashley Hennefer | 11:00 am, December 14th, 2014

Love, sealed with friendship 

Historically, literacy—in its many forms—has given the marinalized a way to speak and participate in a system that previously prevented them from doing so. And while the printing press revolutionized the way writing was exchanged and shared with the world, the invention of radio as entertainment, emergency, and communication technology had a similar effect on oral storytelling. From this, ham radio, also known as amateur radio, was born as a subset of commercial radio. The appeal of communicating independently to others across the globe struck a chord with many people in the early 20th century—including women looking for ways to participate in war efforts, and connect with other women around the world.

Although enthusiasm for ham radio as the medium of choice for hobbyists, veterans, and emergency responders hasn’t waned much over the last fifty or so years, the hobby is making a strong resurgence as aspiring makers acknowledge radio’s contribution to the movement. Many hams consider amateur radio to be the original maker skill, requiring knowledge of electricity, geography and communication.
And it’s one of many mediums that gave women the chance to have a global voice—and they took it.

Calm the ham

For those unfamiliar with the subculture of ham radio, the title “ham” was originally used as a negative name associated with amateur operators who, without proper training, would disrupt professionals. Eventually, though, the name lost its negative stigma and is now used interchangeably with “amateur.” Regardless of someone’s amateur status, all operators must be licensed and complete a training program, through FCC regulations.

Female hams are called “YLs,” which is short for “Young Lady,” regardless of the operator’s age. While that seems simultaneously antiquated, cute, and patronizing, keep in mind that the ham radio subset of men is referred to as “OMs,” or “Old Man.” The largest organization for YL ham operators in the world is the Young Ladies’ Radio League, Inc. (YLRL), founded in 1939, which exists to encourage and assist YLs throughout the world to become licensed amateur radio operators.

Although amateur and commercial radio was heavily male-dominated, the response to the influx of women operators was—and still is—largely positive. In “The Feminine Wireless Amateur,” a 1916 article in The Electrical Experimenter, the writer says:

JUST because a man, Signor Guglielmo Marconi by name, invented commercial wireless telegraphy does not mean for a moment that the fair sex cannot master its mysteries. […]

Women seem to progress excellently in the engineering branches. Primarily this is so because her brain is quick of action, and moreover she usually will be found to have extremely well-balanced ideas as to proportions, so essential in designing. A wonderful imagination coupled to a number of other worthy faculties help to make a really fine combination, so that we find a steadily growing number of women architects, mechanical and electrical experts, radio operators, civil engineers, ad lib. What we need is more of them in the higher positions, where the square root and binomial theorem are everyday quantities.

That’s quite a positive—and progressive—perspective on women in science and engineering – especially for 1919. A 1931 article in the New York Times also remarked on this trend, saying that

The list of women obtaining licenses as amateur radio operators is increasing rapidly, the Department of Commerce said today, although there were only eight registered women commercial operators in the country. […] There are eighty-six women amateurs, compared with about 18,000 men operators.

This number has changed drastically since the 1930. And while there are now thousands of women worldwide with call signs, several notable women during the early 20th century set the stage for the new generations of girls finding a voice on the airwaves.

Gladys Kathleen Parkin

At just fifteen years old, Gladys Kathleen Parkin (1901-1990) received her professional ham radio license. Basically, this makes her a total badass, considering that she’d had her amateur radio license since age nine. She was featured on the cover of The Electrical Experimenter, and at the time was the “youngest successful female applicant for a radio license ever examined by the Government at that time,” according to a 1916 article in the San Francisco Chronicle. Parkin began her hobby at age five with her brother, and was the first woman in California to pass the first-class radio license.

Parkin’s call sign is 6S0, and she spent her life in the radio industry, developing a reputation for building her own equipment. Here she is, quoted in The Electrical Experimenter:

With reference to my ideas about the wireless profession as a vocation or worthwhile hobby for women, I think wireless telegraphy is a most fascinating study, and one which could very easily be taken up by girls, as it is a great deal more interesting than the telephone and telegraph work, in which so many girls are now employed. I am only fifteen. … But the interest in wireless does not end in the knowledge of the code. You can gradually learn to make all your own instruments, as I have done with my ¼ kilowatt set. There is always more ahead of you, as wireless telegraphy is still in its infancy.

Graynella Packer

At twenty-two, Graynella Packer of Florida became the youngest woman to become a wireless operator “on board an ocean-going steamship,” reads a 1914 article in the King Country Chronicle. Her experiences at sea gave her many stories that she later recounted to her friends and family. Although she technically wasn’t an amateur, her passion began as a hobby, and Packer had long been interested in the way electricity and communication worked on the open seas. She served on the steamship Mohawk from 1910 to 1911.

Olive Carroll

Canadian-born Olive J. Carroll had a passion for travel and exploration while growing up during the 1930s and 40s – and radio was her gateway to the world. Carroll’s interest in amateur radio began in high school, but she eventually turned it into her career and attended the Sprott Shaw School of Radio, where she earned her second class radio certificate in 1944. She was hired by the Canadian Department of Transport as an interceptor operator, and a few years later, when an opportunity opened on the Norwegian passenger freighter M/S Siranger, she accepted the position—having never before traveled farther than 500 miles from her home. Like Packer, Carroll was driven by a desire to explore the world by operating from the ocean.

In 1994, she authored a book about her experiences called Deep Sea ‘Sparks’: A Canadian Girl in the Norwegian Merchant Navy. The San Francisco Maritime Museum has recreated a ship’s radio room with the same equipment Carroll used during her time on the M/S Siranger.

Clara Reger

It’s impossible to talk about notable female hams without acknowledging the work of Clara Reger, who received her call sign in 1933 at age thirty-five. Reger had a long career as an operator, and managed disaster communications after WWII. Known for her exceptional Morse code skills, Reger spent much of her life teaching others how to become operators. She also received the Edison Award for teaching a fourteen-year-old boy without arms to send Morse code with his feet.

But Reger is also known for her signature salutation, which she created especially for women communicating with other women—the salutation ’33,’ which meant love sealed with friendship. Reger knew that to hear another girl’s voice on the other end was rare and special. What a gift, to find kinship with women, through the radio, across the ocean, across the globe!

YL 33 is considered sacred by female hams, and there’s a poem dedicated to Reger’s accomplishments and passion for radio communications. You can read it in full on the Young Ladies Radio League’s website, but here’s a passage:

There’s no real definition
But its meaning is known well.
It’s how a YL says good evening
To another friend YL.

Although these are just a few of the many women who used radio as their medium of choice, their stories as operators are fascinating and inspiring. These women are united in their mutual passion for exploration, technology and adventure, and that still holds true today for many female ham operators. If you’re interested in becoming a ham radio operator, consider joining YLRL, the Sisterhood of Amateur Radio, or the ARRL.

Ashley Hennefer, M.A., is a writer and researcher based in Reno, Nevada. She’s the founder and editor of “The New Artemis”, and is passionate about technology, travel, and the humanities.