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07 December 2011

Amateur Radio (Ham) radio licenses hit an all-time high

Aside from the latest smartphone, ham radio has become the newest trend in communication, reaching an all-time high of more than 700,000 licenses in the United States, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Just in the last month, the FCC reported 700,314 licenses. In 2005, there were only 662,600 licensed hams. That's an increase of more than 40,000 new licenses within the past six years.

For nearly 100 years, ham radios have been a reliable form of communication, allowing people to connect with others all around the world. They have come in especially handy in times of an emergency.

According to Oxford County Regional Communications Center Director James Miclon, the county has been working closely with ham radio operators, and is currently in the process of positioning ham radios throughout the county in order to provide emergency backup communications.

Gary Gilman, a licensed ham radio operator from Naples, said that he has been a volunteer for Oxford County's Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) for 12 years. He pointed to the fact that there are three types of licenses a ham radio operator can have – technician, general, and extra class – and that each grade of license gives hams different communication privileges.

"We [ARES] provide backup emergency communications ... to anyone if they lose their primary source of communications," he said. "I have the extra class. ... I can do it all."

Gilman said that during Maine's infamous ice storm of 1998, when the power was out for nearly two weeks, ham radios were used as a primary source of communication.

"We had several power line crews in from different states, and they couldn't talk to CMP," he said. "Their radio frequencies were different than what CMP uses. So, what we did was, we went out and put a ham radio operator in some of the ... vehicles of the crews that were out there. We could all communicate with each other and, in turn, ... with CMP."

In 2003, the Androscoggin River flooded the town of Canton, resulting in damage to and evacuation of 44 homes. According to Gilman, without ham radios, those who lost their homes wouldn't have received the help they needed.

"We deployed to our end of the town in Canton," he said. "We [ARES] kept an eye on the river as it was rising, and reported that information back to the EMA office. The nursing home had to be evacuated, and we manned the shelter to pass along health and welfare traffic ... keeping track of the number of people that were there and what kind of resources and supplies they needed."

According to Gilman, ARES provides a lot of disaster communications.

"Like when 9/11 happened down in New York," he said. "When the towers went down, New York City lost all communications. We [ham radio operators] provided probably 80 percent of their communications until they could get an infrastructure back up and running."

Gilman said that during a disaster, though, a lot more people are involved than just those who volunteer for ARES. Many other ham radio operators will volunteer their time to help in time of need, he said.

"We have a very active group in Oxford County, and now that we are CERT [Community Emergency Response Teams] trained and certified, we do a lot more with the local EMA, fire departments, and police departments," he said.

During a recent summertime Maine Lung Association bike trek from Bethel to Belfast, Gilman said that ARES provided 99 percent of the communications through vehicles traveling on the route and at rest stops in case cyclists get injured or break down.

Gilman said he does at least three bike treks per year. During the three-day event nearly 2,500 bicycles are on the road, said Gilman, and there are at least 30 amateur radio operators involved. It is all volunteer, he said.

"Those are done as training exercises, to keep us honed up on our skills," he said. "It's also a good way for new hams to get involved in emergency communications."

According to Gilman, ham radios don't have boundaries as far as what they can do. They can either be streamed through a mountaintop repeater, or through what is called a simplex, "a direct line of sight communications, whereby we don't use a repeater," said Gilman.

"There are limits to ... what frequencies will go how far, but there is usually somebody there all the time," he said. "We have such a broad spectrum of frequencies to use that we can switch to another [one] if we need to, whereas public service people don't have that option."

Just in the past couple of years, hospitals throughout the county have been relying on ham radios, said Gilman.

"If a big disaster hits, we can keep the hospitals in touch with each other through use of amateur radio," he said.

According to Gilman, there are currently 25 hams who serve on ARES. Half of that number is 100-percent active, spending much of their free time communicating with other hams across the globe, he said.

"Ham radio is made up of a very diverse group of people," said Gilman. We have people who are in television, doctors, lawyers, you name it. Even the King of Jordan is a ham radio operator, and former Governor Baldacci. A friend of mine, who is another ham, talked to Al Gore once."

For a list of FCC registered amateur radio operators in your area, type "FCC registered amateur radio licenses" into a search engine followed by the name of the town. In Oxford alone, there are more than 30 licensed ham radio operators, according to the FCC.

- Sun Journal

The table below shows the top 100 countries by ham radio population.

Rank,  Country,  Amateur Radio Licenses
1   Japan   1296059
2   USA    679864
3   Thailand 141241
4   RO Korea 141000
5   Germany  79666
6   Chinese Taipei 68692
7   Spain 58700
8   UK 58426
9   Canada 44024
10   Russia 38000
11   Brazil 32053
12   Italy 30000
13   Indonesia 27815
14   France 18500
15   Ukraine 17265
16   Argentina 16889
17   Poland 16000
18   Australia 15328
19   Netherlands 14529
20   Sweden 10817
21   India 10679
22  Venezuela 10600
23  Denmark 10060
24  Hungary 9000
25  Czech Rep. 7086
26   Mexico 7059
27  Chile 7054
28  Slovenia 6500
29   Colombia 6500
30  Austria 6214
31  South Africa 6000
32  Finland 5900
33  Switzerland 5500
34  New Zealand 5464
35   Norway 5302
36   Belgium 5295
37  Paraguay 5085
38  Bulgaria 4950
39  Portugal 4200
40  Philippines 4000
41  Uruguay 3980
42  Romania 3500
43  Peru 3080
44  Greece 2952
45  Dominicana 2354
46  Panama 2024
47  Ecuador 2006
48  Cuba 1870
49  Bosnia 1758
50   Ireland 1658
51  Hong Kong 1508
52  Croatia 1410
53  Bolivia 1385
54  Belarus 1359
55  Israel 1225
56  Turkey 1200
57  Estonia 1000
58  Costa Rica 937
59  Slovakia 930
60  Lithuania 810
61  China 800
62  El Salvador 703
63  FYR Macedonia 620
64  Cyprus 578
65  Nicaragua 564
66  Luxembourg 525
67  Cote d'Ivoire 500
68  Trinidad 445
70  Morocco 391
71  Guatemala 386
72  Malaysia 381
73  Yugoslavia 354
74  Honduras 298
75   Pakistan 214
76  Lebanon 205
77  Sri Lanka 200
78  Moldova 192
79  Latvia 190
80  Tanzania 173
81  Fr. Polynesia 172
82  Grenada 168
83   Nigeria 158
84  Barbados 150
85  Iceland 140
86  Jordan 133
87  New Caledonia 130
88  Kuwait 126
89  Haiti 100
90  Zimbabwe 96
91  PNG 95
92  Singapore 95
93  Andorra 94
94  Oman 94
95  Suriname 93
96  Montserrat 92
97  Faroe Is. 90
98  Bermuda 90
99  Namibia 88
100  Jamaica 84

The data comes from the IARU (International Amateur Radio Union).  - N0HR