Women and Amateur Radio

 

“Ham radio?!?  You mean that hobby for crotchety, old men who sit around in their basement talking to other crotchety, old men?  No, thanks!  I’m not interested.”

I’m sure there are a lot of women/young girls who have been encouraged to take up the amateur radio hobby, but think of it as just something “old men” do.  And while it’s true that men make up the majority of licensed ham, or amateur, radio operators, it’s not just a hobby for men.

Women make up 15% of all licensed amateur operators in the United States.

The last count that I saw, there were approximately 700,000 licensed ham radio operators in the United States, which means there are only around 105,000 women who have gotten licensed to operate.  While it seems cool to be a part of a rare breed, it’s a shame that more women or young girls aren’t taking part in this fun hobby.  Besides, when men hear a woman’s voice over the radio, it tends to pique their interest.  A woman who takes part in radio contesting can rack up points in a hurry because the men flock to her quicker than they would another man.

With today’s modern feminist movement, we’re given the impression that women of the past never had the opportunity or intelligence to do some of the same things men could do, especially if it pertained to something like electronics.  But that’s not the case.

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There were many women in the early years of amateur radio who took up the hobby, not just for the purpose of communication, but to build their own radios, like Kathleen Parkin who built her own rig at the age of 15, or took jobs on passenger ships or steamships as wireless operators, like Graynella Packer who was the youngest woman to ever hold that position.  Check out this article and this one to read more about women amateur operators in the early 20th century.

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Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

With the creation of the STEM initiative (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), there is hope that young girls will develop an interest in amateur radio.  There’s more to this hobby than just talking on the radio.

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Diana Eng, New York fashion designer and a contestant on Project Runway in its second season, is an amateur operator.  Her interests include building her own antennas for the purpose of making contact with satellites.  Being able to travel around the world gives her an opportunity to work her radio and make contact with new people.  Click here to read about Diana and some of the projects that she’s done within amateur radio.

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Diana Eng, pictured above, with her satellite tracking antenna.

Another aspect of this hobby is being able to build radios and antennas because doing so will help you learn new skills such as soldering.  You can find any number of tutorials online showing you how to build your own radio with various different materials.  There’s one tutorial for making a solar powered radio out of an Altoids Mints tin (see this link for instructions on how to make this radio).  Or, maybe you want to build a homemade antenna?  The internet is a gold mine of tutorials for building antennas out of things you may already have around your home like the Tape Measure Antenna (see here for instructions on how to build your own Tape Measure Antenna).  You can also get an old TV antenna and with a few modifications, make your own radio antenna (Click here for instructions on how to modify an old TV antenna for radio use).

Young Ladies SOAR

In a hobby dominated by men, you may begin to feel out of place.  Sadly, it’s not too uncommon for some (not all) men to, not so much look down on women operators, but maybe think they don’t have the intelligence to understand the complexities of amateur radio.  I’ll be the first to admit that when I look at the electronic schematics of a radio or the detailed drawings or graphs for antennas, I get that “deer in the headlights” look.  But, that shouldn’t be the assumption for all women.

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While it’s good to become a part of the ARRL (American Radio Relay League), it’s also good to become a part of one or more of the radio clubs for women devoted to amateur radio.

One such group is the YLs.  In amateur radio, any woman, no matter her age, is called a YL, which stands for Young Lady (while a man, no matter what age, is called Old Man).  Another group is SOAR, which stands for Sisterhood Of Amateur Radio.  There could be more out there, but these are the two I’m familiar with.  These groups are there to help women/young ladies to learn and grow in this hobby with other women.

One hobby, many uses.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many who get into amateur radio for other purposes than just communication.  While I respect those who can build their own rig (radio) and antennas, my intended purpose for getting into amateur radio is for providing communications during special events such as 5K races and the Cheaha Challenge Bike Race held here every May, and to help out during times of natural disasters, like tornadoes, and other emergencies.  I did come to learn about on-air special events, such as the 50th Anniversary of The Johnson Space Flight Center where I got to make contact with their radio group, and also contesting, but my main focus is for community support.

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Government and community leaders are beginning to see the importance and value of amateur radio.  It was ham radio that became the sole method of communication after the World Trade Center fell because it was home to many communication towers and antennas, plus cell towers became overloaded and bogged down, so many people couldn’t get in touch with loved ones.

It was ham radio that provided communications during Hurricane Katrina to get law enforcement and medical services to where they needed to be to help save people.  We also saw how ham radio became an important service in Puerto Rico last year after the island was decimated during Hurricane Maria and knocked out most, if not all, of their communications.  Many relatives on the mainland were able to get in contact with their loved ones on the island through amateur radio.

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So, ladies, if building rigs and antennas aren’t your thing (or maybe it is), and you don’t care for contesting or special events, you can be a part of a very vital and valuable service to your community during times of natural disasters and other emergencies.  Who knows if/when the next storm will knock out all cell, landline, and internet communications?  If that happens, ham radio is the ONLY form of wireless communication that will still work.  All you need is a radio, antenna, a battery box, and BOOM!!!…..you have communications.  And if you’re a mother, what mom doesn’t want to know the status of their loved ones should they be separated due to work and/or school during a tornado or some other emergency?

Susan Campbell

I am a newbie to the Amateur Radio hobby. I got my license so that I can be of assistance in times of disaster when communications have been disabled.

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