A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Grandpappy of Communication Systems Back in Full Force


by Pamela Boyce Simms   

Q: What’s trending in American communications? …the newest smart phone or social media platform?  Actually uh no, it’s…
A: Ham radio operations! Americans are lining up in droves to relearn failsafe, Resiliency Plan B “back-up skills”—among them, amateur radio, the Dean of communication systems that took the country by storm over a hundred years ago. We’re witnessing what Transitioners call a spontaneous “reskilling”, i.e. bringing highly practical heirloom technology forward to the present in the service of a better quality, more resilient future.
In fact, ham radio licenses in the United States are at an all time high of 717,200 according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with nearly 40,000 new ones in the last five years, and 16,000+ just in the last year.
When cell towers, police, fire, communications and television antennas were lost in lower Manhattan during the 911 crisis, more than 500 trained amateur radio operators became the communications back up for emergency operations 24 hours a day. When President George Bush needed to contact the Mayor of New Orleans during hurricane Katrina, amateur radio was the only option for getting messages through.
The recently demonstrated pivotal importance of ham radio has erased images of the quirky loner hunched over crackly sputtering radio gear in the grey light of a back room. Savvy folks who are weathering back-to-back ice storms and prolonged power outages proactively anticipate more frequent future weather-related communications interruptions. The new wave of amateur radio operators know that when all other conventional means of communication failed, ham radio operations kept friends, families and communities connected and informed. The spike in amateur radio licenses reflects the wise forethought of those who see the handwriting on the seawalls, in meteorological projections, and are ready to stay connected when loved ones and neighbors will need them the most.
Reskilling, Retooling and Relearning Skills that REALLY Count
In addition to amateur radio’s pragmatic application during extreme weather challenges, the ham licensure surge also reflects a growing awareness that true resiliency requires knowing how to take full responsibility for our own lives. The Do It Yourself (DIY) and Maker movements, for example, are positive reactions to the fact that several generations of Americans born and raised in a consumer, information culture have very few basic skills. Do It Yourselfers emphasize self-sufficiency and affirm that anyone can do the research and learn to work through projects and problems without paid “expert” assistance. The Maker Movement encourages relearning to creatively apply practical skills such as woodworking, metalworking and useful crafts.
Transition Ingredient 8: Facilitate the Great Reskilling
More and more people are waking up to the reality that narrow specialization is overrated in this day and age. As per the Transition environmental model, if we are to effectively respond to climate change by moving to a lower energy future and relocalizing our communities, then we’ll need many of the skills that our grandparents took for granted. Transition initiatives reverse the “great deskilling” wrought by 40 years of specialization that moved us away from “producing things,” by offering training in a range of “making” skills.
The future that our environment has planned for us requires us to be able to: build a baby cradle, raise chickens, plank a barge deck, design buildings, grow food, write poetry, build walls, budget, midwife babies and hospice the dying, manage inventory, lead, collaborate, take personal initiative, heal wounds, analyze problems, pitch hay, program a computer, plan a healthy menu…AND learn how to adapt to the accelerated frequency of weather-related communications interruptions through amateur radio licensure. Diversifying our talents is essential insurance against economic upheaval and/or environmental disruption.
Amateur Radio

Although amateur radio is the most regulated of noncommercial communications services, it is the most versatile and powerful. All hams, as operators are called, must pass an exam based on an easily accessible text and be licensed by the FCC. If you’re planning to use amateur radio to communicate among family, friends and neighbors, those who want to transmit need a Technician’s license and a hand-talkie or other equipment.
The times in which we live encourage us to take full responsibility for ourselves, our families and our communities, and stay connected.
More Information: The American Radio Relay League (ARRL), National Association for Amateur Radio (arrl.org)
Local Transition Ham Radio Overview & Emergency Communications Workshop: Thursday, April 3, YMCA, 507 Broadway, Kingston, 6-8:30pm (with potluck). Dave Hochfelder of Transition Albany—electrical engineer and veteran Amateur Extra Class licensed ham radio operator who served in the SATURN emergency radio operations during the 911 crisis—will provide instruction and answer questions. Video instruction and podcasts to follow. RSVP: transitionmidatlantic.pbs@gmail.com.
“You can never awaken using the same system that put you to sleep in the first place.” ~Gurdjief~
Pamela Boyce Simms is a Certified Transition Trainer
Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH), of Transition US