If there is any theme that runs through publicity about amateur radio these days, it is generally one about the reliability of our communications in an emergency situation. In story after story that I see ferreted out by Google News, ham radio operators tell the press and the public about the way amateur radio operators can stay on the air to provide vital communications when cellular phones are overloaded or down altogether and other communications infrastructure has failed. The training and volunteerism of amateur radio operators are also highlights of these articles, and the very best of these stories also include some human factor - a volunteer operator who has helped the community, a team of operators who have worked in tandem with emergency personnel to provide backup communications, and sometimes even a victim who owes a debt of gratitude to amateur radio. These are themes that the ARRL has taken a leadership role in promoting, and the evidence is that the strategy has worked. More new hams than ever joined the ranks of amateur radio here in the United States last year.
Quoting from a story on ARRL's website, "A total of 30,144 new licenses were granted in 2009, an increase of almost 7.5 percent from 2008. In 2005, 16,368 new hams joined Amateur Radio's ranks; just five years later, that number had increased by almost 14,000 -- a whopping 84 percent! The ARRL VEC is one of 14 VECs who administer Amateur Radio license exams."
Of the many reasons people become interested in amateur radio, the one I have heard most often in recent years is that new hams want to earn a license so that they will have the means to help in emergencies and to be of service to the community. This, among the other themes, has been expertly promoted by ARRL in special websites, publicity releases, articles, and videos. Taking on the erroneous image of ham radio as an "outdated technology" that has been all but replaced by the internet, ARRL answers the questions of why we are relevant in the 21st Century on its Wordpress "We Do That Radio" and "emergency-radio" websites.
Well, with all of that in mind, we turn to the large cardboard envelope I received from Matt Arthur, KA0PQW, this week. Matt had told me he was sending me an article, but I was surprised and delighted to see that it read:
Honored by President Obama
Local ham radio hobbyist recognized
The story appeared in the February 18, 2010 edition of the Star-Eagle newspaper, and featured a photo of Matt, KA0PQW, in his well-equipped ham shack. In the article, staff writer Jody Wynnemer explained that when a letter arrived from the White House, Matt had learned that he had been selected to receive a President's Volunteer Service Award.
"Congratulations on receiving the President's Volunteer Service Award, and thank you for helping to address the most pressing needs in your community and our country", the letter began.
Matt was recognized for his work with the Community Emergency Response Team in Steele County, Minnesota. He recalled how he volunteered and handled communications during a flood in 2007. It had been nine hours until the National Guard could relieve him, and in the meantime he handled traffic in and out of the flood zone, passing messages to authorities in Winona.
Those of us who know Matt as a Handiham leader and volunteer understand what a great spokesman he is for amateur radio. To paraphrase a familiar saying about politics, all good ham radio work is local - at least that's how it begins. Local ham radio classes, local Skywarn training, local ARES exercises, local club meetings and programs - and local news stories, just like the one that features Matt. Of course ham radio is worldwide by its nature, but getting the word out about the things we can do really does begin right at home.
Congratulations to Matt, KA0PQW, on this wonderful honor!
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice, firstname.lastname@example.org