A decade is a long time for anything to either wither and die or take root and flourish.

Returning to Chennai after 10 years, Hamfest India – a celebratory congregation of hams across the country – finds the hobby thriving.

In recent years, software-defined radios and social media have made it more accessible and attractive to a large number of people in the city, especially youngsters.

“There is now a website – chennaihams.blogspot.in – and a Facebook page. The main driver of growth is cutting-edge technology, which has shrunk the sizes and prices of handsets. Manufactured in China, these instruments come cheap, at Rs. 5,000 or Rs. 6,000 a piece. In the past, it took Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 20,000 to invest in one,” says G. Vipin Shankar, a city ham and webmaster of the site.

Two-day fest

The hobby’s popularity is not restricted to Chennai, a fact substantiated by interesting and unique experiences brought to Hamfest India 2012 — a two-day fest which began on Saturday — by amateur radio enthusiasts across the country.

The event, held at AVM Rajeswari Kalyana Mandapam — inaugurated by R. Nataraj, chairman, Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission, when he handed over the first copy of a souvenir to K. Dhanavel, secretary, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Department — has drawn around 800 hams and offers a tumble of impressions.  (For details, go to hamfestindia2012.com)

S. Suri gave an account of how the National Institute of Amateur Radio (NIAR) in Hyderabad, which he founded in 1983, became a premium training school for young aspiring hams.

Today, NIAR clubs account for around 10,000 hams. The veteran amateur radio enthusiast, who had worked shoulder-to-shoulder with former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to promote the hobby among young Indians, introduced 14-year-old Tom K. Jose, a NIAR trainee who epitomises the growing enthusiasm for amateur radio.

The young ham stood out in a DXCC challenge, conducted this year by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) to commemorate its diamond jubilee. In 2012, he established contacts involving 100 different locations that were chosen from the first list put out in the September 1937 issue of QST, an ARRL magazine.

Another engaging story came from Bangalore, where employees of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have sustained an effort to promote amateur radio, for 30 years.

In 1982, the Upagraha Amateur Radio Club (UARC) was founded for ISRO employees, under the patronage of Prof. U.R. Rao, then chairman of ISRO Satellite Centre. Today, the club is in the vanguard of efforts to popularise ham communication among school and college students.

“Our club has played a critical role in the HAMSAT project, launched in 2005. HAMSAT is a microsatellite dedicated to amateur radio communications and we have helped in the area of testing and in-orbit evaluation of its payloads,” said B.A. Subramani, an ISRO engineer and UARC secretary. “And currently, we extend support in reception and dissemination of telemetry signals to satellites made by engineering students – such as STUDSAT and SRMSAT – and to a couple of other international CubeSat missions,” he added.

Tracking growth by taking stock of the technological resources for the hobby, Shaikh Sadaqathullah, a popular name on ham frequencies, said, “In 2002, there were only five or six VHF repeaters in India; now there are 25. In Chennai, there were only two VHF repeaters, now the city boasts three VHF and one UHF repeater. Ten years ago, the VHF repeater in Kodaikanal was the only one in Tamil Nadu (excluding Chennai); now, there are three – one each at Yercaud, Kodaikanal and Ooty.”

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