Eric Christensen says ham radio operators are more than just
communication and gadget enthusiasts -- they are communication and
gadget enthusiasts with a social conscience.
“Earthquake, floods, fires -- ham operators get involved and
assist in health and welfare during local and national disasters when
public safety radio channels are overwhelmed,” said Christensen, the
manager of Ham Radio Outlet who has volunteered his services to the
Burbank Fire Department and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.
In fact, he said that when the city rebuilt the Police/Fire
Headquarters, it dedicated a room to be used by operators.
“Ham radio operators provide a vital communications link in times
of disasters by helping us, and we try to support them anytime that
we can,” said Fire Capt. Ron Barone.
So what exactly is ham radio?
“It’s a hobby for those interested in two-way communication,”
Christensen said. “But it’s for personal use or hobby use only.”
Started 32 years ago in Northern California by a highway
patrolman, there are 12 Ham Radio Outlet stores in eight states,
three of which are in Southern California. Originally in Van Nuys,
the store moved to Burbank about seven years ago.
Ham radios can be used in several ways, from voice transmission to
Morse code and sending messages via television and computer screens.
According to the Kenwood Communications Corp.'s booklet on ham
radio, there are 700,000 licensed operators in the United States and
more than a million internationally.
“The business has deteriorated a lot from other forms of
communication,” Christensen said about the effect of cellular phones
and the Internet on the hobby.
Ultimately, however, he believes ham radio will endure.
“People like talking to other people, to strangers,” he said.
“There is also the public service aspect of it that people like.”
And he has noticed an interest among younger generations.
“My 12-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, got her license and is active
in the Antelope Valley,” said David Alpert, a Palmdale resident and
regular store customer. “It has improved her communication skills,
and it also has helped her technological and science skills.”
Christensen said there is no age restriction for operating hand
radios, users just need to pass a test administered by the Federal
Communications Commission .
The store provides information and instruction for novices.
Equipment costs start at $200 for hand-held radios, $300 for mobile
radios and worldwide radios range from $600 to $3,000.