An old-fashioned Facebook

Ham radio alive and well in Digby County

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
Published on February 7, 2013



Every Wednesday night, they retire into their shacks, turn on their rigs, and wait for a chance to check in to the 2-metre net.

Or in plainer English, the members of the Fundy Amateur Radio Club host a radio chat every Wednesday night.

They go to their radio rooms, turn on their radios and wait their turn to say hello.

They share news, make plans, talk about the weather and road conditions, their home reno projects, their dogs – all the same things people talk about on Facebook, except you can hear their voices.

“It’s a chance to make sure your equipment is working properly,” says Andy Neimers of the Digby area club. “It’s also a chance to check in on the members and see how everyone is doing and what they’re up to.”

The members take turns running the net (hosting the chat). On Wednesday, Jan. 16, Avery Crowell ran it.

“This is VE1 HC with the Fundy Amateur Radio Club’s Wednesday night net,” he said into the mic at exactly 8 p.m. “We’ll start by asking for any priority traffic or any mobile traffic from anyone driving through the area.”

And then he asked for check-ins. And back came voices giving their call signs – strings of numbers and letters all beginning with VE1 or VA1 – the prefixes for Nova Scotia.

Crowell recognized most of the operators by their call signs. He kept a list on a piece of paper and wrote down their first names as they checked in.

“Everyone uses their first name on ham radio,” says Neimers, who’s sitting in Crowell’s shack to help a newcomer understand what is going on. “Even the King of Jordan, JY1, he went by Hussein. Everybody is equal on the radio.”

The rigs or radios vary, as do the reasons people get involved.

“Some of the rich guys have some real fancy rigs,” says Neimers. “Some of them are DXers—they want to reach as many exotic locations as they can. Some of them are contesters—they want to see how many contacts they can make in a 24 or 48-hour period.”

One of the check-ins to the Wednesday night net is Corey from Weymouth who can’t chat for long.

He’s been connecting with a satellite and using it to talk to people in Europe. He’s expecting another satellite to pass over in 25 minutes.

“I worked nine countries in 17 minutes,” says Corey. “I was very busy and they’re expecting me on the next pass.”

Neimers explains that some hams like to collect a contact from each grid square on a map. When they find someone broadcasting from an exotic place like Weymouth, Nova Scotia, people line up to talk to them.

At the other end of the scale, some people in the third world, says Neimers, just have tiny matchbox-sized morse code transmitters.

“Self-reliance is a big part of it,” he says. “A lot of the guys build or assemble their own rig, their own antennas. A lot of them are battery operated, or hooked up to solar or wind or generators. If there is some big power outage these guys want to be still operating.”

Neimers says for him it’s the magic of being able to talk to someone on the other side of the world.

To do that without a satellite, they need “good propagation” – lucky bounces off the ionosphere or weather events.

Neimers remembers fondly the time he just happened to connect with a radio operator in Israel.

“He was enjoying his coffee and looking out over his orange trees,” says Neimers. “We had a great rag chew (chat).”

Neimers, who has Latvian origins, got involved with ham radio in the late 80s when the Iron Curtain was just starting to crumble and radio operators in eastern Europe were starting to broadcast again.

“They were talking about things they couldn’t talk about during the previous 50 years,” says Neimers. “It was a chance to hear about what was going there and what had gone on. I was one of the first guys in Canada to talk with them in our native language.”

The Wednesday night net on Jan. 16 attracted 20 check-ins—a good number says Crowell.

By opening up what they call the “provincial backbone” – a series of repeaters, they get check-ins from hams in Pictou County and all the way down to Cape Sable Island in Yarmouth County.

Digby County has a repeater tower in North Range, established by the province. And the club has a couple radios at the Digby Area Airport and at the town’s public work compound for use in emergencies.

To make sure these are working properly, they take part in the monthly provincial exercise Operation Handshake.

That exercise is all business, while the club’s Wednesday night net is mostly social.

They use a lot of jargon. For example they end their conversations with the number 73, or seven trees.

That means “best wishes and regards.” They could also use 88 which means “hugs and kisses.”

The hams know a lot of people are listening in to the net on scanners.

“One of these days, maybe they’ll decide to get their licence and join the fun with us,” says Neimers.

More information is available from the Industry Canada website

Eric Pierce of Picton, Ontario also has a helpful webpage for beginners.