UTPA’s resident Ham Radio enthusiast explains his hobby
Television Production professor Frederick Mann is a Ham. That is, he is part of a group of people that practice operating their own independent radio stations.
Ham radio, also known as Amateur Radio, was first used to describe amateur operators who would jam the signals of commercial and government operators with their stations due to the sharing of the same wavelength, or spectrum. The name stuck, and in time the amateur operators adopted and began referring to themselves as Hams.
“I’ve been a Ham since 1979. That’s when I got my license,” Mann said. “I’ve always been interested in radio, since I was small.”
Ham radio is basically non commercial, two-way radio communication. Messages between Hams are sent either by voice or through International Morse Code. Some Hams even use computerized messages that are bounced off satellites and passed on to other Hams.
For many Hams, it’s hobby. Hams use their radio to try and communicate with different people across the world, then collect proof of that communication with QSL cards. Typically, QSL cards are about the size of a a postcard and are signed by the other participant. It contains details about the other ham such as their frequency, and is usually sent through mail.
Mann has been with UTPA since 2002. Before that, Mann had been working for McAllen Independent School District where he taught radio and television production. He also worked as a stringer, or part-timer, for KGBT TV4. During his time with the McAllen School Distirict, Mann started KMAC Television and Radio which is still going strong. Once at UTPA, Mann founded Bronc TV in 2006.
While anyone who is interested can become a Ham, there is a process they have to go through in order to get a license. There is a test administered by the Federal Communications Commission that budding Hams have to pass. The test consists of basic radio theory, how radio waves work and travel through the air as well as the rules and regulations of being a Ham.
Mann’s call sign, or unique identifier for his station is N51VZ. A call sign is assigned to Hams once they pass their test.
Be it voice communication with a hand-held radio or Morse code, by tuning to another Ham’s signal, a communication link is established and the operator is then able to communicate with that person.
“I’ve talked to people in over 152 countries,” Mann said. “This was a mix of both single side band and (Morse)code.”
Single side band is a amplitude refinement, or modulation that more effectively uses bandwidth and electrical power and allows for long distances to be covered more effectively than AM or FM signals.
Many amateur operators take up Ham radio as a hobby, but the device has practical uses as well. During a crisis when other forms of communications are down or experiencing trouble, independent operators often step in and offer assistance where they can. Such was the case during 9/11 when Ham radios were used to augment the assistance of rescue workers during the aftermath of the attacks.
Ham radios were also used during hurricane Katrina in assistance to the Coast Guard said Mann who is also a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla, at South Padre Island, a civilian uniformed part of the United States Coast Guard. Although Mann wasn’t able to assist in the efforts himself at the time, he does attest to the efforts made by Ham Radio operators who did.
“There were a lot of good people who helped out during the hurricane, people from Houston all the way to Florida,” he said.
The price for owning one of these amateur radios varies and, like most products, there are many brands available for the interested would-be Ham to choose from; brands such as Kenwood, Icom and Yaesu to name a few. Along with the purchasing of the radios, Hams often set up antennas in their back yards ranging in sizes from big and noticeable to small and discrete.
“There are some people that spend $10,000 on their radios, mine cost $600 and that was expensive to me,” Mann said. “I also have what’s called a stealth antenna. It’s hidden in my lemon tree. It’s legal, but I still don’t want to draw attention.”
Some Hams even go so far as to assemble their own Ham Radios from parts.
“You can still build kits, but I haven’t built one in years. Kits aren’t dead; some people will still build their own,” Mann said.
Using Ham Radio, Mann has had the opportunity to talk with many people from around the world. Some of these conversations have been memorable enough to him that they’ve left lasting impressions on him.
“One of the coolest conversations I’ve had was with a guy from Japan. We talked for an hour. His parents had died from radiation poisoning from the bombings in Hiroshima,” Mann said.