DIY Amateur Ham Radio Operators Answer the COVID-19 Call

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., a record number of ham radio candidates have prepared for tests and achieved their FCC license.

Although often seen as a volunteer support group aiding communications during natural disasters, most amateur ham radio enthusiasts simply enjoy the do-it-yourself (DIY) nature of putting together and improving their radio stations while communicating with the world-wide community.

According to the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for Amateur Radio in the US, defines Amateur Radio as a valuable volunteer emergency communications service and public resource. Since 1914, amateur radio – also known as ham radio – have been working in basements, attics and outside RF shacks, tinkering with their and communicating around the global with other ham operators. People from all walks of life use ham radio to talk across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the Internet or cell phones.

But unlike Citizen-Band (CB) radios, all amateur radio operators must pass at test from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Interest in the use of amateur radios and especially in preparing and taking the FCC tests have soared with the exponential rise of the coronavirus outbreak.

The FCC reports that there are more than 765,000 amateur radio license holders in the U.S., while noting a recent increase in the number of new ham licenses since the COVID-19 pandemic. Various sites that provide online courses in preparations for a ham radio test also acknowledge the increase in interest. For example, HamRadioPrep.com claims to have experienced a huge surge in new students in the last few weeks of March 2020, stating that the number of persons signing up for the amateur radio license courses, “has soared more than 706% since news of the coronavirus outbreak dominated headlines. At the same time, the FCC shows a 7.1% uptick in new amateur licensees in the first week of March in 2020 vs the same week in 2019.”

Image Source: Facebook Post by George Zafiropoulos, DIY Amateur Ham Radio Operators Answer The COVID-19 Call

In addition to emergency communication support, ham radio operators have been helping build DIY medical equipment during the COVID-19 crisis. For example, George Zafiropoulos (KJ6VU), a ham operator in the San Francisco Bay area and well-know ham podcaster, has designed a development board to do ham radio projects with microcontrollers (Arduino, PIC, Raspberry Pi, Feather).  A few fellow hams picked up the design and are now using BenchDuino to test valves in home brew ventilators with the University of Florida. Check out their Facebook page to learn more.

George’s regular Ham Radio Workbench Podcast is geared to the hands on DIY type technical ham. Details about the BenchDuino design that was adopted by the U of F ventilator project can be found on this link.

DIY engineers and techs can see details of the ventilator project on groups.io by searching for message topic is "High Cycle Rainbird and Passive Valve Testing". Many amateur radio operators were involved with this project including Jack Purdum, W8TEE, Gordon Gibby, KX4Z, Farhan in India and many others, working in conjunction with the University of Florida.

Image Source: Adobe Stock

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