Meet the amateur radio operators lending their ear in crises
Despite it all, Hyderabad has seen a steady rise in its user base, thanks to those who have etched its path towards the fame it garners today.
Published: 23rd March 2022 03:19 AM | Last Updated: 23rd March 2022 07:24 PM | A+A A-
HYDERABAD: Bharthi Prasad, a well-known ham (amateur radio) operator in India, has helped with several relief operations across the country during natural calamities. Testing times had come once again for her when she saved the lives of terrified Indian students in Ukraine at the beginning of the war, from her radio shack in Saidabad.
“I got in touch with a radio HAM from Ukraine while making contacts. He identified himself as Vishnu, a Keralite, and informed that there are several Indian students with him in a bunker, some 30 km from Kyiv,” she shares. On not receiving any response from the Indian government, she contacted radio HAMs in Poland and Budapest, who then gave their details and helped the students to be evacuated.
Amateur radio refers to two-way radio sets that are used to communicate with one another and the ones who operate it are called HAMs. Shashi Bhushan, director of Lamakaan Amateur Radio Club (LARC), says, “Ham radios are similar to what the military and the police use, only the frequencies on which they communicate is different. As commercial entities can’t access it, the common man can use it for free.”
The hobby of amateur radio is almost a century old and has witnessed a downfall over the course of time. Despite it all, Hyderabad has seen a steady rise in its user base, thanks to those who have etched its path towards the fame it garners today.
Eighty one-year-old retired Lead Aircraftman Sriramamurthy Suri, a decorated war veteran from Masab Tank, was friends with late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (a HAM himself), who requested him (Suri) to set up an organisation promoting ham radio in the country. Sriramamurthy says, “That’s how the Andhra Pradesh Amateur Radio Society war born in 1975, with a mission to help the administration in times of calamity. It was renamed as the National Institute of Amateur Radio (NIAR) in 1983.” While he trained and inspired lakhs of HAMs, he says that a very few people actually use it and most do not value the subject and the potential it holds.
The writer of All About Amateur Radio laments, “People these days know little to nothing about the significance that this technology holds, except that they can appear for HAM radio licence examination after the age of 12.”
In the eye of the storm
Forty-nine-year-old Ram Mohan Suri, chairman of NIAR, was in the Andamans for an expedition to operate his radio set (also called DX-pedition in HAM radio lingo) when a tsunami hit the Indian Ocean. “It was a rude awakening on December 26, 2004, when I saw the television fly across the room. I realised hours later that the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake had triggered a massive tsunami. When my team and I were safe in the high ground, we refused to get evacuated and instead, started an emergency communication station to help the administration in the relief work, saving a lot of lives,” he says.
LARC consists of homebrewers who help enthusiasts with the technical expertise and material required to build their sets through workshops. While commercially available, amateur radios cost around `50,000, homebrewing can reduce the price by almost a tenth of it. Recently, Farhaan Ashhar from Banjara Hills, another founding member of LARC, launched a ham radio satellite, Exseed Sat-1, that was indigenously built by his company Exseed.