Let’s hear it for the ham

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The term “ham radio enthusiast” is a redundancy.

For more than 100 years now, amateur radio operators bring an enthusiasm to their pastime few hobbyists can match.

Throughout the world — with the exception of the most repressive regimes — amateur radio operators use their own equipment, some of it homemade, to connect with people from all ages, backgrounds and walks of life in what can accurately be described as the world’s first social media.

Last weekend at Mary Holmes College in West Point, Mississippi State’s W5YD Amateur Radio Club held its annual Amateur Radio Club Field Day, which drew about 40 ham radio operators. (The name ham was once a derisive label applied to amatuer radio practitioners for their “ham-fisted” techniques.)

Participants spent the weekend sending their radio signals across the globe. During the event, one operator made a confirmed connection with a ham radio operator in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, almost 8,000 miles away.

People have long been curious about the lives of others living in distant lands, so the ability to connect with folks from — as the old song goes — faraway places with strange-sounding names, satisfies that urge to get to know our fellow humans no matter where they may live.

For all its recreational value, it should be noted that ham radio operators can — and do — perform a vital service in times of natural disaster when more modern communications grids are disrupted. Historically, ham radio operators have provided vital information to emergency services, governmental and relief organizations both near and far during natural disasters.

That role may someday apply to “unnatural” disasters as well. At a time when so much of our energy and information systems are subject to cyber-attack, ham radio provides a time-tested and reliable alternative when all else fails.

Most of the time, ham radio operators aren’t providing that vital service, of course. To them, it’s just a fun way to communicate and — pardon the pun — make connections with like-minded enthusiasts.

For those of us who never got the ham radio bug, it’s comforting to know that ham radio operators are out there, ready to serve when disaster strikes.

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