Doesn’t it just figure that I get into ham radio, where I could use an HT (handie-talkie, don’t ask why walkie-talkie isn’t used) or a moderate station in the truck to talk to various people through repeaters and such while driving in the car, *after* I move up closer to work and don’t have an hour long commute anymore? Ahh well…
On the way in today, called up the repeater that’s closer to work since I know I can reach that one all the way in from my house, and got an answer back from someone I’ve never met. This is what it’s all about :> We chatted about various things (the old drive-in theater in Palmyra that used to have flea markets every weekend in the summer, that the racetrack in Cherry Hill is being torn down and condos put in its place, computer shows, computers in general) from about 2 minutes away from my apartment all the way until I hit the back doors at work. Nice way to pass the time while in the car.
One of the things I constantly hear, for example on Slashdot anytime ham radio and BPL (broadband over power lines) are mentioned in the same line, is the words, “Why not just use a cell phone, they work all over too.” Well, during normal circumstances, you’re right, a cell phone works just fine. However, there’s a couple reasons why this is completely different:
1) In a time of emergency, cell phone towers rely on two things. Electricity, and a hardline for communication transfer. Even if you call from one phone to another, it still has to go to the tower, out to a computer somewhere, back to the tower (maybe even the same one) and then to the other phone. A radio system goes from one radio directly to another one (or perhaps to a repeater which rebroadcasts the signal) and will work even if there’s no electricity. My only radio right now runs off a 7.2V LiIon battery, could be charged from my truck if I wanted. The rig I’ll have in the truck runs off of 12V, and doesn’t require any mains power. Furthermore, many home rigs run on 12V as well, partly because that’s what’s needed to power the electronics inside and partly because they can be removed from a house, put on a table in the middle of a field, and hooked up to a car battery to operate. Doubt you’re going to keep any kind of cell phone infrastructure running on batteries for very long.
2) Ham operators tend to follow a bit of order if something goes wrong. If I’m near a disaster area, and I can get my signal out to somewhere else, there’s ways of going about sending that information back and forth through the airwaves that keeps things moving in an orderly fashion. However, if something happens near any area, many times you’ll find that cell phones don’t work anymore. Why? Because everyone opens their phone and hits “send” at the same time. The towers quickly become overloaded with anything from emergency phone calls to “Oh my God, Betty, you wouldn’t believe what I just saw… Macy’s is having a sale!” The landlines tend to get jammed up just as much, and now traffic that could mean life or death to many people can’t get through. This is why sometimes in emergencies you’ll find that your phone doesn’t work at all, not even a dialtone. It’s not because something happened to the lines connecting you, it’s so the emergency traffic can get through!
3) Lastly, and the most important during times such as this morning on my way in to work, how else would I have had a conversation with someone I’ve never met? Sure, I could open my cell phone and dial a random number, but chances are more likely than not the person I called would not appreciate the interruption. I could’ve given this guy my phone number, and we could chat tomorrow at the same time on our ways through the traffic, but maybe tomorrow he’s not available? So someone else might answer my call on the air instead. Once you get into the HF bands, where radio signals travel great distances with very little effort, you could chat with someone in England, South Africa, Brazil… would you just randomly call a number in another country in hopes that someone will answer it? Not exactly.
So yes, while during “normal times”, ham radio might not have as much power as something like internet communications or cell phones/landlines, it certainly does have its benefits. And if an emergency comes to this area, I’d leave my cell phone at home before I’d leave my radio anywhere. I *know* I can reach someone on the radio, and that’s more valuable than any number of cell phones to me.