Local radio club prepares for Ham Fest

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The Brandon Amateur Radio Club is gearing up for a new province-wide convention, which is scheduled to take place at Austin’s Manitoba Agricultural Museum on Aug. 13.

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The Brandon Amateur Radio Club is gearing up for a new province-wide convention, which is scheduled to take place at Austin’s Manitoba Agricultural Museum on Aug. 13.

While the club has organized small group gatherings before, president Jim Sloane told the Sun that this new offering, known as the “Manitoba Ham Fest,” is their most ambitious event in recent memory, since they are aiming to attract around 150 attendees, including operators from Saskatchewan and even parts of the United States.

“We’re getting our feet wet,” the 73-year-old said on Sunday. “We’re hoping to have a successful event and we would love for the general public to come and take a look. They’re most welcome.”

Submitted Brandon Amateur Radio Club member Kevin Munson tests a refurbished Kenwood repeater last fall at a tower located near the community of Bruxelles. The Brandon Amateur Radio Club has been operating since 1948.

One of the major inspirations behind this upcoming convention is the International Peace Garden’s annual ham radio festival, which Brandon Amateur Radio Club members attended regularly until the event was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

And because of all the new uncertainty surrounding the logistics of crossing the border, Sloane and his fellow club members decided to organize something a little closer to home, officially setting the wheels in motion around a year ago.

Even though the main attraction of the Manitoba Ham Fest will be its flea market, where operators can stock up on hard-to-find equipment, Sloane said they’re also trying to organize some information seminars for those who are interested in learning about different aspects of the hobby, like digital radio.

“Digital mobile radio, DMR for short, is one of the topics that may come up, and the other one is AllStarLink, which is a streaming service through the internet and through amateur radio combined, where you can talk to anyone all over the world using various nodes that are set up,” he said.

Since its formation in 1948, the Brandon Amateur Radio Club’s main goal has always been to foster an active community for those who use the radio frequency spectrum for the non-commercial exchange of messages.

Outside of being a fun hobby, Sloane said ham radio enthusiasts are also responsible for setting up vital transmission stations across the province, which have come in handy whenever a natural disaster has severed more traditional forms of communication.

“What comes to mind initially is the 1979 flood,” he said. “They had stations set up throughout the Red River Valley on emergency power, communicating messages and co-ordinating traffic for some of the emergency measures organizations.”

Even though the necessity of such emergency networks has dwindled in recent years, with the advent of cellphones and the internet, Sloane believes it’s important to keep these alternate measures in place.

For this reason, the Brandon Amateur Radio Club has installed equipment on top of city hall so that operators can provide valuable communications to local government officials in event of catastrophic failure of cell service.

“If cellphones go out, we’re really the last resource because we can go battery-operated and continue to communicate,” he said.

Sloane also mentioned that certain other members of the club are proficient in morse code, which provides an additional form of communication during a worst-case scenario.

“When there’s a ton of noise on the band, or band conditions are really weak, morse code can still get through,” he said. “So it’s a very valid form of communication, especially in emergencies.”

Despite his love for ham radio, Sloane admits that the Brandon Amateur Radio Club needs to expand and attract new members, especially since the communications landscape has changed so drastically over the last couple decades.

For this reason, he’s hoping that the Manitoba Ham Fest will become an annual event that continues to grow and pump new blood into the hobby for years to come.

“This one, hopefully, will become bigger because what we want it to become is not just a flea market,” he said. “We want it to be able to be able to host activities for non-hams and hams alike.”

Admission to the upcoming Manitoba Ham Fest is $5.

Anyone looking to find out more about this event can contact Sloane at ve4jim@wcgwave.ca or 204-761-5803.

» kdarbyson@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson

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