by Anna Bratulic
On the roof of the Henry F. Hall Building stand four 50-foot towers, each balancing an antenna which can (if you know what you're doing) allow you to play a really neat game of atmospheric pool and get free long distance to boot!
Imagine the antenna is your wooden rod, the wave it emits is the cue ball, the Earth's atmosphere is the fuzzy green surface of a pool table, and the receiving antenna somewhere in, say, Nevada, is the corner pocket.
Equipment available in the cramped office of the Concordia Amateur Radio Club -- or Ham Radio Club as they are affectionately known -- is capable of pointing one of the antennas in certain direction, zapping a radio wave from it, where it then (one hopes) bounces off the Earth's ionosphere and gets deflected to the anticipated destination in Nevada, allowing for two-way radio communication.
"It's a nice way for foreign students to transmit back to their homeland," said Richard Allix, a technician at Concordia and an alumni member of the club. "We had a guy from Colombia. He used to transmit every week back home to his father who was also a ham. Well, he tried to. It depends on the propagation."
As the radio waves travel through the atmosphere, a variety of weather conditions, such as sun spot cycles and atmospheric storms, can hamper their ability to arrive at their destination. "Waves don't gleefully bounce off things. They can get absorbed by weather," Allix said.
While long-distance radio communication is possible, local contact with other "hams" is more common among club members. Ham radio people also pride themselves on being able to facilitate communication during emergencies. For example, when the ice storm struck two years ago, their repeater (a transmitter in the Hall Building) allowed people in the downtown area to communicate over longer distances with walkie-talkies and other low-powered radio.
Amateur radio has been a pastime for people since shortly after Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic radio signal in Newfoundland in 1901. By 1912, there were so many people using radio to communicate that the American government stepped in to restrict amateur radio enthusiasts to specific sections of the electromagnetic spectrum that were deemed unimportant.
"A lot of people are vying for use of this spectrum," Allix said. He compares the electromagnetic spectrum to the keys on a grand piano. Each note represents a specific wave length. So "hams" are restricted to only a few "notes" with which they can play.
The humble beginnings of the Concordia Amateur Radio Club can be traced back to a broom closet in the Drummond Building of Sir George Williams University in 1956. Resourceful students stored the station in the closet and wheeled it to a nearby window to hook up to the antennas.
In the 1960s, when the Hall Building was being designed, they managed to get amateur radio needs (tower platforms and cable conduits) incorporated into the building plan. That explains the four huge towers on the roof, which allow signals to be sent all over the place without being blocked by skyscrapers and downtown high-rises.
While the club's members tend to be students in physics or engineering, Allix says that anyone with an interest in communication can participate. One of the reasons why future physicists and engineers may be more attracted to the club is the chance to play with technical gadgetry.
"When I was a kid, I would take apart my toys because I was interested in putting them back together and seeing how they worked. Amateur radio gives people the opportunity to build their own equipment. Well, maybe not wonderful things like this," Allix said, pointing to shiny new ICOM IC-745, a radio with a multitude of knobs and buttons, worth a few thousand dollars, "but they might be able to build a more crude version."
However, membership has been waning due to the allure of the Internet. "You had people waiting in the hall outside the office [for the club's weekly meetings] like people waiting for the bus," Allix recalled.
The Concordia Amateur Radio Club offers semester-long courses that lead to amateur radio licenses granted by Industry Canada. A license is required in order to get on the air. Anyone interested in finding out more about the club can call 848-7421.
Richard Allix, veteran of the Ham Radio Club, with some of his fellow members. In May, 1986, a ham living 20 miles from a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, Ukraine, reported that hundreds were dead and wounded and others were fleeing. His transmission was picked up by another ham in Amsterdam, who notified the media. Hams have made eyewitness reports on the war in Bosnia, Hurricane Andrew and the 1985 earthquake in Mexico. In February 1997, hams monitored ships in the South Pacific, hoping to pick up a transmission from Quebec sailor Gerry Roufs, to no avail.
Photo: Richard Allix, veteran of the Ham Radio Club, with some of his fellow members. In May, 1986, a ham living 20 miles from a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, Ukraine, reported that hundreds were dead and wounded and others were fleeing. His transmission was picked up by another ham in Amsterdam, who notified the media. Hams have made eyewitness reports on the war in Bosnia, Hurricane Andrew and the 1985 earthquake in Mexico. In February 1997, hams monitored ships in the South Pacific, hoping to pick up a transmission from Quebec sailor Gerry Roufs, to no avail.
Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.