Amateur radio operators like Bob McArthur of New Ipswich make connections
|Published: 03-22-2023 2:31 PM
Bob McArthur turns on his radio and puts out a “CQ” call – calling anyone, anywhere for a chat.
Answering the call, somewhat tinny until McArthur makes a few adjustmentsm to make the signal clearer and clearer, is Ian, of central England.
The two exchange some details – their exact locations, the kinds of radios they have and how clear their signal is, before signing off.
It’s a pretty typical conversation between ham radio operators. The fact that they’re across an ocean from each other is no object.
McArthur, whose radio set up is in an upstairs office in his New Ipswich home, with an antenna set up in his backyard, has been a ham radio enthusiast for the past 25 years.
McArthur’s call sign is K1QT, a sign he picked himself. Though he occasionally gets ribbed about whether he’s a “cutie,” he said he chose it for more practical reasons – it’s short, understandable over a weak connection and has a good rhythm when being transmitted by Morse code.
The range of radio communications on rigs like McArthur’s depend upon atmospheric conditions. When there are a lot of solar flares, the ionosphere surrounding the Earth hardens, and signals can bounce off and reach greater distances.
Current conditions for the hobby are excellent, McArthur said.
“It’s at its peak right now. We’ve been waiting five or six years for this to happen,” McArthur said.
One of his favorite things about the hobby is seeking out hams in far-reaching places. Often, even those in foreign countries speak at least a little English because of the popularity of the hobby in English-speaking countries. The United States has by far the most amateur radio operators, at 779,545 licensed operators.
“I just love coming up here and turning the radio on,” he said. “You don’t know who you’re going to connect with. It might be someone in Mason, or it might be someone in Japan.”
McArthur said its a more-popular hobby than many people believe; in New Ipswich alone, 86 people hold an operator’s license.
While McArthur has a 133-foot antenna wire strung across his backyard, with a complete setup in his home, he said those interested in getting a start don’t need anything so elaborate.
One of his favorite summer activities is taking a much smaller, portable radio to the top of Pack Monadnock in Peterborough, along with a five-foot antenna, and using the height of the mountain and lack of natural barriers to reach other operators.
McArthur, in his long career as a ham operator, has collected the countries he has contacted in several ways. He has a log book, where he collects contacts made from countries for the first time, and exactly how far away the operators were from his location. His current record-holder is an operator from Saipan, 12,481 miles from New Ipswich. His log book has recorded contact between 228 countries over the many years he has been doing the hobby.
McArthur also collects QSL cards – QSL being shorthand for acknowledging receipt of a message. The cards are often mailed between hams after they’ve made contact on the air. Each country has a code specific to it; the United States’ code is K.
McArthur said once, on vacation, he spotted a radio antenna, and having packed a selection of his own QSL cards for the occasion, swam over to the home to strike up a conversation with the fellow ham and exchange cards.
Community is a big part of the hobby, McArthur said. There are annual “field days” where radio operators operate for the full 24 hours and try to make as many unique connections to other operators as possible. This year’s field day is June 24 into June 25.
McArthur recently helped another New Ipswich resident, John Murphy, get back into the hobby. Murphy originally got his operator’s license 40 years ago, but fell off for a few years. Now, a few days shy of his 70th birthday, he decided he wanted to reinvigorate the hobby.
“It really is something that is for all ages,” Murphy said.
Murphy first signed up for a class on a whim, but even though he has not had much time for the hobby, kept up his license, always figuring he’d get back into it eventually.
When Murphy put out a call on social media asking for any other hams in the area who could help him get back in the game, McArthur answered the call, helping him install an antenna.
While some ham operators use microphones to have conversations, others, like Murphy, prefer to use Morse Code.
His is rusty, Murphy said, but in the few weeks since purchasing a new radio and re-entering the world of ham radio, he has started to make connections with other operators who transmit at about his speed.
“You can talk to people from foreign countries if you want. We talk about the weather, the kind of antenna they’re using, things like that,” Murphy said. “I think if people knew more about it, they’d enjoy it.”
Anyone interested in a local ham radio group can contact McArthur at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172 ext. 244 or email@example.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.