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Young radio amateurs light up the air: Q&A with Philipp Springer

By ITU News

To celebrate World Amateur Radio Day, we caught up with DK6SP (delta-kilo-six-sierra-papa), also known as Philipp Springer, Chairperson of the Region 1 Youth Working Group at the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU).

What do amateur radio operators do? Can anyone become a ‘radio ham’?

One can just listen to the radio waves or even transmit over them. When transmitting, you would need to pass an exam at your local [amateur radio] authority* and receive a worldwide unique call sign.

Anybody with an open mindset and interest, technically as well as culturally, will like amateur radio a lot.

What kind of equipment is involved?

Equipment varies from a simple “homebrew” transmitter and a wire in the trees to high-end radios with big towers and antennas, and anything in between. The most important thing is that you enjoy your time on the air, just listening or communicating all over the world.

How did you get started in amateur radio?

My personal story began back in 2008, at nine years old.

My neighbour asked: “Do you want to solder some kits?” I said, “Yeah, let’s do this!”

From there, I’ve been “infected” with the amateur radio virus. At the 2016 Youngsters on the Air (YOTA) camp in Austria, I met lifelong friends and made so many great memories. I’d like to share these memories with other youngsters and hope to get [them] more involved in the future.

What aspects of ham radio do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy doing high-speed Morse code, as well as contesting – where we sit in front of our radios for 24 or 48 hours aiming [to make] the most contacts or contact the most countries all over the world with high-speed talking, concentrating, or using two radios at the same time. Amateur radio is my passion – along with the youth work I do for IARU.

Tell us more about Youngsters on the Air – IARU’s youth programme.

Youngsters on the Air was established back in 2011. Since 2014, the initiative was run by the youth working group of IARU Region 1, which covers Europe, Africa, the Middle East and northern Asia. The initiative is growing; now active in IARU Regions 2 and 3.

What are some of YOTA’s goals?

Our goals and objectives are to welcome new and young amateur radio operators to our common hobby, promote amateur radio, and engage in networking among international youngsters across countries as well as cultural borders.

In an increasingly digital world, how does YOTA get young people into amateur radio?

The digital world and amateur radio are by no means incompatible.

Amateur radio is not stuck in the analog world of the past.

New technologies are just as well-accepted by radio amateurs as by others. This includes the use of new digital technologies or software-defined radios where computers make signals audible, which was recently impossible.

The motivation for [doing] amateur radio is the variety. It’s technical parts like experimenting with radio science, soldering, developing and building electronics, in practice and not just theory. Secondly, it’s social part: we are connecting with other communities, meeting radio operators from all around the world. Lastly, we connect with other cultures: we practice foreign languages, visit other countries and get on the air at so-called “expeditions”.

How does YOTA keep young members engaged?

We offer in-person and online activities for youngsters. Through these events, such as our well-known summer camps, we can establish lifelong friendships and further open opportunities for our future working lives.

YOTA activities are seen as multipliers for IARU member societies. They bring international ideas from all over Region 1 home to their countries and light up their national youth work.

How does amateur radio fit in today’s global communication system?

Why do people still ride horses instead of using a car or train to get from A to B? Because they enjoy doing it!

Amateur radio is not an alternative for or equivalent to global communication ecosystems, such as the Internet or smartphones. It will not cut out global communication systems.

Most importantly, amateur radio is still a communication system which works independently of others and is important as a backup communication system.

Additionally, amateur radio is an experimental platform for radio science. For example, Nobel Prize-winning Joe Taylor from the United States, himself a radio enthusiast, developed (together with other radio hams from all over the world) a completely new digital mode that allows long-distance communications using very low transmission power.

What about the role of amateur radio in emergency communications?

There were big floods in Asia over the past years where amateur radio services were involved. Not only for [local] authorities, but also for people who want to know where their families are. People tell amateur radio operators: “Please tell someone out in the world, I’m still alive. I’m safe. Don’t worry, we’re getting out of this together.”

Can a hobby lead to a career in amateur radio?

I want to keep the hobby out of my career.

But lots of my friends found their lifelong jobs through amateur radio.

Being an engineer or just having the network where so many contacts were made, people really do get into amateur radio first and then get jobs they really like to do all their lives.

How do you see the future of amateur radio?

Many talented people are active in amateur radio and the numbers grow every day. Thus, we will continue what we have done so far: keep our fingers on the pulse of amateur radio and inspire young people to take up their passion for global communication. Our hobby will never get old due to its variety of topics and people involved. The future of amateur radio is definitely bright.

*Editor’s note: In many countries, amateur radio examinations are run by local clubs or other organizations. Clubs that offer exams do not have to be affiliated with their IARU member-society, but many are.

Learn more about how to become a radio amateur and check out the ITU-R Recommendation on minimum qualifications for radio amateurs.

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