Hamilton veteran wants to revive ham radio

CBC News report how amateur radio was used to connect Canadian soldiers abroad with families at home

In 1978, John David was surprised to discover — upon calling his parents in Hamilton, Ont. from the Golan Heights — that a five-minute conversation cost $20, a hefty chunk of change for a soldier making roughly $300 a month.

At the time, then-23-year-old David was a Canadian Forces soldier deployed for six months as a peacekeeper with the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force, tasked with supervising a ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

To keep in touch with his family back home in Canada, David sought a less expensive alternative to the telephone, which had suddenly become an unsustainable luxury of instant communication.

But in the era pre-dating the internet, cell phones and satellite phones, alternatives were few and far between — apart from Morse code.

One day, during off duty hours while the majority of his colleagues were downing pints at the pub, David discovered the “ham shack,” and forged what became a life-long hobby.

In the shack, David discovered a group of specially-trained soldiers, known as the Canadian Forces Affiliate Radio Systems (CFARS), who operated amateur radios.

Also known as ham radios — a term initially used to mock operators — this form of communication uses radio-sets to allow communication within a city, across the world and even into space.

CFARS was established in 1978 and enlisted amateur radio volunteers and their equipment, in order to assist the CF with communication efforts in remote areas. The unit has since worked alongside the Canadian Coast Guard, the RCMP and the Ministry of Public Safety.

The group’s Golan Heights division brought David under their wing during his deployment, and they taught him how to create a “phone patch,” a way of using a radio to mimic a telephone and call anywhere in the world. It cost a fraction of the price.

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