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The Ink Rat Author

Written by Rananda

Strengthening the Foundations

How Amateur Radio Enhances a Marriage

By Rananda VK2FRAR (with technical support from Alex VK2RZ)

A 1000 word feature © 2011 for Amateur Radio magazine (edited on republication for readability)

A few years ago the opportunity came up to do my Foundation Licence. My husband was sitting his Advanced Theory Examination on the same weekend so together we could go along to Waverly Amateur Radio Society where the training and testing was taking place. Normally I would not have considered doing such a thing. Like sailing, amateur radio is my husband’s hobby. It’s not like I would ask him to write a short story, let alone accompany me to a Pilates class.

However, communication and how and why we do it drives technology and modern culture forward. Everyone seems to have a mobile phone; many have more than one, me included. Apparently, we now surf the Internet more than we watch TV. Everything begins with ‘E’: e-mail, e-zines, e-business, etc… We listen to commercial radio all day long, in the car, through our earphones while we’re exercising, while we work. Becoming involved in Amateur Radio seemed like an ideal opportunity for me to understand more about how we communicate. Maybe, also, I could demystify my husband’s contraption-filled study and the antennae-filled balcony…

The first day of the Foundation Licence course was my first visit to the Waverly Amateur Radio Society shack at Rose Bay in Sydney. The timing of the course coincided with me coming to the end of an extremely busy period at work, and the evening before had seen me have a few celebratory drinks after many months of long hours at the office. My husband had left Your Entry Into Amateur Radio lying around for a few weeks and once even found me flicking through it. He neglected to tell me I should have read it in detail from cover to cover, but I was only to find this out later. I was totally unprepared.

We were sitting in a large-scale version of a typical bloke’s shed. There were wires along all the walls and ceiling, bits of paper tacked to corkboards, tools all over the place, old comfortable sofas along the edges of the room and lots and lots of fluff on the floor.

It looked like termites might also be cohabitants.

My first impressions of the club were blurred because of another big difference between me and my husband. Timekeeping. I like to arrive early , check the place out, and orientate myself to the surroundings. My husband, at best, likes to be ‘on time’, which meant that we arrived after the introductions of the course participants had started. I perched at the end of a table, hastily constructed a name badge, tried to read the names of the others in the room while listening to their reasons for doing the course. Residual fuzziness from the previous evening’s drinks meant I could have done with a coffee.

Only when we were into the first module about licences was I able to fully take in my surroundings. We were sitting in a large-scale version of a typical bloke’s shed. There were wires along all the walls and ceiling, bits of paper tacked to corkboards, tools all over the place, old comfortable sofas along the edges of the room and lots and lots of fluff on the floor. It looked like termites might also be cohabitants. There were lots of ‘bits and bobs’ all over the place. Some were in plastic trays, some on shelves, some fastened to display plates for educational purposes and some just plain lying around. Gradually over the two days, these things transformed into baluns, BNC plugs, coaxial lines, and other items that contribute to functioning transceivers.

We learnt about electricity. It was like being back in a physics lesson at school as we worked our way through the technical basics. The course was more thorough than I expected. I thought that communication protocol would be a bigger part of what we would cover, but practicing aside, this was relatively straightforward and I appreciated learning the rules and guidelines within which we operate. Later, I mentioned to my husband I was worried about getting into a conversation over the radio and not being able to close it out. I’m not a great conversation starter or finisher and I could foresee myself trapped in an endless rambling discussion. He explained that in practice this is not the case. The etiquette is well developed and well used.

A large part of the course was about antennae building, testing, and, overriding everything else, safety. The number and opportunities to try different things are limitless and I started to recognise how a retractable metal measuring tape might be used to construct a portable antenna (the use of a slinky still eludes me to this day).

By mid-morning, they had wetted my enthusiasm thanks to the natural and boundless enthusiasm of our teachers. I would have appreciated it if my husband had explained that I needed to bring a passport photo along though as I had to spend my lunch break in Rose Bay shops seeking out someone to take a post-hangover photo of my pallid demeanour, now permanently affixed to my certificate of proficiency.

I’m glad that I got up early on Sunday morning to go over what we had covered the day before. Throughout the two days, I was thinking of the multiple-choice exam looming at the end along with the practical exam and the biggest hurdle of the whole experience. My husband had explained this was just a ten-minute hands-on exercise, so, as one of the last to be called in, I wondered why it was taking the other course participants so long. Little did I know this was no mere practical but an oral exam of the entire syllabus. I passed, but boy did my husband cop an earful on the way home about ‘setting expectations’. He had an excuse: the examination process had changed since he did it a few years ago… Huh.

I’m proud of my certificate and my licence. I’m pleased to know how not to get electrocuted when converting electricity into radio waves and vice versa. I can discuss what’s for dinner over the transceiver in the car on my way home, and I don’t mind who listens in. I now have half an idea about what is going on in my husband’s study.

The key to any strong relationship is communication. This takes on a double meaning in our marriage now. Not only can we communicate with each other in a new and interesting way, but I understand and share another common interest with my husband and the foundations of our marriage are further reinforced.

Ham Radio Equipment

Bits and Bobs

How Amateur Radio Enhances a Marriage

By Rananda VK2FRAR (with technical support from Alex VK2RZ)

A 1000 word feature © 2011 for Amateur Radio magazine (edited on republication for readability)

Marriage is not only about sharing and being together. It is also about giving each other space to develop interests and talents, knowing each is supported. So, on one level, when my husband explained we needed another trip to the local hardware store, oh and could we stop at the toy store too, I was happy to indulge him but not to delve any further into what was going on behind his closed study door. This time he was after a metal retracting tape measure and a ‘slinky’ that walks its metal coils down stairs.

He wanted to build another couple of antennae, this time a compact radio direction finding antenna and a twenty-metre band dipole. I have to admire my husband’s tenacity. At the time we lived in an apartment block built of steel-reinforced concrete, which made picking up even commercial radio stations difficult at the best of times. Consequently, his triumphs with antennae had been hit and miss, though he’s used the portable contraptions with varying degrees of success all over the higher ground of New South Wales.

Since renewing his interest in amateur radio after a twenty-year break, our home has accumulated an increasing amount of what I can only describe as ‘bits and bobs’. Apparently, it is possible to make working antennae out of things that just happen to be lying around the place. What really happens is when he buys a part for his latest project, it comes as a pack of two or four and, voila, ‘spares’ accumulate.

I’ll share a secret with you. I loved that my husband was into this radio stuff. It gave me hours off each day to read novels, lie in the sun, and relax.

All this was guilt-free while he twiddled and fiddled with his knobs and listened avidly to the static.

While I wasn’t a big fan of the increasing clutter around the place, I started to become interested in the reach of amateur radio. On car journeys, we tracked our passage by listening to the Morse idents from the repeaters. When the wind was blowing in the right direction (so to speak) I could hear conversations about what was for dinner over in Broken Hill, or hear the logistics discussed of a local fair in Wagga Wagga. It felt illicit to overhear these conversations, like I was eavesdropping. Yet I felt drawn to these real but distant lives taking place remotely around me. I realised I was intrigued to be part of this larger Australian community. My husband explained these are not like private phone calls. The amateur radio bandwidths are there to share. In the interest of research and experimentation, keeping a log of transmission details, particularly those that are being picked up over longer distances, can provide useful information and increase understanding of propagation.

Later that year we took our annual holiday up on the Northern New South Wales coast. We packed the normal stuff: tent, tennis rackets, boogie boards, clothes, esky, etc. But the heaviest and bulkiest items were the different bits of radio gear. At this stage I was still relatively disinterested in amateur radio. Actually, I’ll share a secret with you. I loved that my husband was into this radio stuff. It gave me hours off each day to read novels, lie in the sun, and relax. All this was guilt-free while he twiddled and fiddled with his knobs and listened avidly to the static.

But a funny thing happened on our holiday. One week, we stopped at a beautiful caravan park situated beneath a brilliant leafy-green canopy. Wallabies grazed between the pitched tents in the evenings. Sulphur-crested cockatoos socialised on the soft grass in the mornings. Surf crashed into the beach only a few hundred metres away. But my husband noticed something far more exciting. The trees… He found an appropriate rock and threw it over the lowest of the high branches, attached to string attached to an end-fed antenna. At this stage, I knew I had secured at least an hour of peace as he plugged the radio into the car battery.

But there was more than just communication via radio. Referring back to his logbook of those days, he spoke to New Zealand and could hear Russian and Canadian stations.  But he also drew an audience from the surrounding campsites. Initially, I think it was out of concern for the contraption and wires that he had rigged up overhead. ‘What is this?’ ‘Is it legal?’ ‘Is it safe?’ And then these transformed into more congenial questions, such as ‘Who are you talking to?’ ‘How does that work?’ Just like that, my husband knew everyone by name, was having beers with them and I was the one with no mates sitting with my head stuck in a book not interacting with my surroundings at all.

From feeling magnanimous about giving my husband space to develop his ‘nerdy’ hobby, the way my husband used his hobby to make friends humbled me. He was having fun, and part of a bigger community. It was enough to motivate me to undertake my Foundation Licence.

ManListeningToRadioWaves

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