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Rob Kaufmann

By MYRON LOVE

It has been a busy and exciting time for Rob Kaufmann and his fellow (and sister) “hams”; members of the Winnipeg Amateur Radio Club (WARC). The club recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.

 

 

 


“WARC is one of the oldest ham radio clubs in Canada,” says Kaufmann. The Winnipeg Endodontist and Cary Rubenfeld, his fellow Winnipeg Jewish amateur radio enthusiast, recently attended the annual April, “Hamvention” in Dayton, Ohio. It is the largest gathering of hams in North America.
“There were over 30,000 amateurs in attendance. It’s nice to be able to put faces to the people I have been talking to over the years. It is like being part of a family.” Kaufmann adds that through amateur radio, he has gotten to know some very interesting people. “You never know who will be on the other end of the contact you make. It may be an engineer in the Gabonese rain forest, a retired member of a film crew who worked on the movie Citizen Kane with Orson Welles, a high school student, a female retiree in Florida, someone on vacation in an exotic locale or a former NBC science reporter. He notes that musician Ronnie Milsap, King Hussein of Jordan, Barry Goldwater and Joe Walsh of the Eagles have all also been some of the more famous ham radio enthusiasts.
“But mostly, it’s just people,” he says, “average people, some of whom have fascinating lives and stories to communicate to you. Ham radio operators are part of an international brotherhood,” he comments. “I can go anywhere in the world and be welcomed by fellow hams. On air contacts can be as short as only a few seconds long in some cases, while other hams develop lifelong friendships and meet regularly on the air to chat on a regular basis, sometimes for hours; “rag-chewing” as it is known in ham jargon.

Kaufmann has been a ham radio enthusiast for almost 50 years. “I first got hooked on it when I was a young teen,” he recalls. “I was intrigued and captivated by the idea that a person could communicate to all parts of the world by sending radio signals. (This was three decades before the Internet.) Transmitting an invisible signal into the air and getting a response from a distant place was magical, and it still is to me.”
Hams use all kinds of methods to send information, including voice, Morse code, teletype, digital methods and TV. Communication can be as short as a few miles or around the world, even into outer space or bounced off the moon. There usually is at least one Ham on the International Space Station and Hams have even launched their own dedicated orbiting Satellites that help them link up.


Kaufmann’s inspiration – his mentor (or “Elmer” in ham radio jargon) - was one Harvey Kimelman, one of the Scout leaders of a Boy scout troop based out of the Rosh Pina Synagogue, he recalls. When the troop folded, “We would gather at Harvey’s home on Verona Bay once a week. Harvey (call sign VE4HR) taught us Morse Code, radio theory and how to use the equipment. By inviting us into his “radio shack”, he gave us a chance to go on the air and opened the world to us. It was fascinating and exhilarating to know that you could speak to someone so far away.”
From there, his interest focused on station VE4GY, the club station at Garden City Collegiate. Assisted by one of the math teachers who was a ham, many Jewish kids from GCCI were encouraged to get their license, or “ticket”, as it is known. They included: Sandy Wohl, Sid Lipkowitz, Steve Fink, Ron Schwartz, Garry Frankel, and Sid Frankel among others. It was one of the most productive centers for producing “Jewish Hams”. “Teens are naturally very competitive and chasing “DX” (rare stations) became a passion for many of us.”


Current Jewish licensed hams, in addition to Kaufmann and Rubenfeld include: David Rosner and Ruthie Maman, Hillel Taylor, Henry Ballon, Raymond Hall, Howard Kowall, Dario Schor, Larry Hecht and Leor Drory. They are following in the footsteps of previous “silent keys” (amateurs who have passed on) such as Kimelman, Jack Chapman (QC), Albert Diamond, Jack Sherman and others. In past years, there have also been Jewish Ham radio organizations (such as the Chaverim) who used to contact each other and Israeli hams on Shabbat (Friday in North America) which is Saturday morning in Israel.
Today, Kaufmann is one of the founding members of the RadioSport Manitoba. ”The club is focused on the competitive aspects of the hobby and helping our members get the most out of their stations, so they have the best chance to make the desired contact. We have monthly meetings and regularly check on how signals seem to be coming through on each ham radio band.” (There are several).
“You don’t ever want to play “Geography” with a ham radio operator,” Kaufmann comments. “We know every obscure island and location there is on the planet, because chances are, if we have been a ham long enough, we have made contact with someone who was been there.”

Several times a year, weekends are set aside for the equivalent of a Ham Radio “Grand Prix”. These are contests where individuals or teams compete against each other in a race to accurately communicate with as many people as possible in various parts of the world. Logs of the contacts are submitted to a central database and checked for accuracy. Scores are calculated (including penalties for mistakes) and winners are declared. Although there are no “prizes”, status is conferred on those who excel. “ You can compete against fellow hams, clubs, or against yourself by trying to do better than your last year’s score.“ Some individuals and teams prepare for years or travel to exotic locations, just to “activate” the geographic area for the “contest”. In October, Kaufmann is travelling to the Caribbean Island of Curacao, to be part of a team for the biggest worldwide competition of the year.
One of the most important roles for hams is providing emergency communications in the case of natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods or tornados. “Regular communication channels may be knocked out and in the past Hams have sometimes been the only way to get information in and out of the affected area.” Emergency preparedness exercises such as “Field Day”, (held the weekend of June 22 this year) challenges hams to set up emergency, self powered stations to practice such a drill. It also exposes the public to the hobby and shows what we can do.” Ham radio operators also have a unique ear on political developments. “When the Iron Curtain was beginning to fall,” he says, “we ham radio operators noted the change in conversation style from one that was very restricted in subject matter to a much more open and friendly chat. It was a harbinger of things to come. ” (although, he adds, politics and religion are two subjects that enthusiasts generally avoid).

A particular challenge presently facing ham radio operators worldwide is the dearth of solar activity as measured by the decreased incidence in sun spot numbers. “The sun plays a crucial role in how signals propagate around the globe,” Kaufmann explains. “Right now, solar activity is at a low point in the eleven year solar cycle. It makes it more difficult to get consistent signals around the globe. But that is part of the challenge and science of the hobby. “It is like fishing. When the fishing is lousy, you have to figure out where the fish are and how best to catch them.”
“This hobby is really diverse,” he says. “It offers something for everyone.” To become a licensed amateur radio operator, you must first pass a basic 40 question multiple-choice exam which allows you to be licensed federally and get on the air with your own call sign. There are two classes of license but getting the initial “ticket’ (license) is not hard with a bit of study and some mentoring. Classes are held fairly regularly by WARC. The hobby is also aging. In today’s era of sophisticated instant electronic communication, the idea of “ham radio” is sometimes regarded as a quaint pastime for seniors. But for dedicated hams, both young and old, it is a big part of their lives that combines scientific study, electronics and antenna building, operating, public service, competition and socializing. Getting young people interested in Ham radio is perhaps the biggest challenge facing amateur radio today. But when the Ham bug bites, it often becomes a lifelong hobby and a very rewarding one.
“The best ham radio operators are those who do more listening than talking. It is amazing how much you can learn.”

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