Ham Radio In The Valley

Contributed by Don Bush, KL7JFT

The winter months are beginning and it’s time to look to some nice inside activities. Amateur Radio, more commonly known as Ham Radio, is a hobby that cannot only help with cabin fever but provide a long lasting relationship with operators around the community, state, nation, and world. You can talk to other hams in communities where your friends and relatives are and not have to use the telephone. This is really handy for our valley folks that live off the grid. 

The local Ham organization in the Valley is the Matanuska Amateur Radio Association (MARA). We meet the last Friday of the month at 7PM., normally at Fire Station 61 in Wasilla. Our website is www.kl7jfu.com and look for us on Facebook. There are approximately 3000-3500 hams across Alaska.  We have about 550-600 here in Matsu Borough.

Our hobby has many aspects and can cover interests for various age groups and support community activities. Within ham radio, there are several organizations that support ham radio. Our nationwide organization is Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL). It provides for training material, representation for all US Amateurs to the FCC, promoting programs for our children and schools, training and planning assistance to support Emergency Services during exercises or disasters, international cooperation and coordination, Boy and Girl Scout programs like Jamboree on the Air or the Girl Scout Encampment held at the state fairgrounds and affordable insurance for our equipment and clubs.  

There is the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) that support Borough Emergency Services and other community programs, such as marathons, bike races, local dog races and community emergency preparedness fairs. Then there is the Army Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) program. A lot of our vets remember possibly talking over the radio on what we call a phone patch to their loved ones back home when they were deployed. Besides that, we provide support for DOD and FEMA activities through various radio channels, passing necessary radio messages as needed. Contact Ron/KL7YK at ronkeech@armymarsregionten.org, or Don/KL7JFT at don.bush@armymarsregionten.org for additional information on the Army MARS program.

To become a ham operator, you will be required to obtain a FCC operating license. Our club provides free classes and training to assist you in obtaining that. We provide the testing for free at the end of the class, and is open to the public to test on the fourth Saturday of every month at Fire Station 61. You can find additional information on that on our website.  

Getting the license is the first step toward your new hobby or activity. We provide mentors to assist you learning about your new hobby and guiding you through the maze to reach your goals. We call them Elmers. Like any organization, there are always a bunch of new terms, acronyms and slang to learn, but it is very enjoyable and satisfying and a great distraction from the busy traffic and work schedules.  

We will teach you how to operate your radio, recommendations on what type of radios you may want, set it up and build antennas with all the necessary requirements to obtain the full enjoyment out of this activity. We have hand held radios (like Walki-Talkies), mobile radios for your car, camper, boat, 4-wheeler and snow machine, base stations to set up at your home base and portable radios to setup almost anywhere. 

Some folks may think this is an expensive hobby, well it can be but depending on our goals and the type of communications you would like to operate in can run as low as $50-$75 dollars, then you can add to it.

Ham Radio has been used to experiment, and almost every communication system today started by a ham trying something new. Did you know that every astronaut has to have his ham license before he goes into space? We have our own satellites, and communicate with the various spaces stations currently in orbit. There is the “Challenger Program” down on the Kenai that promotes activities for our children, interested in space activities. So give us a try, check out our website and Facebook.

Thank you Don Bush, KL7JFT Matsu District Emergency Coordinator for Ham Radio!