The Amateur Radio Club: want to be on the same wavelength?

We all know about cosmic background radiation, but most of us are probably less familiar with other forms of radio signals at CERN. Here’s an opportunity to discover the CERN Amateur Radio Club (CARC) - callsign F6KAR - which is currently installing a new shortwave antenna.

Two-way communications between radio stations are followed up with written confirmations, known as QSL cards, bearing the radio operators’ callsigns. The CARC’s collection contains more than 10 000 cards from all over the world.

You don’t have to be NASA and have the most advanced technology to be able to contact space! The amateur radio enthusiasts of the CARC ably demonstrated this in 2005, when they succeeded in communicating with the International Space Station (ISS). The link-up was part of a school project in which thirty children came to CERN to find out about amateur radio and were given the opportunity to ask the astronauts a series of questions.

But contacting terrestrial radio stations is an even bigger challenge still… Unlike the link-up with the ISS, which is in the line of sight, communications with terrestrial radio stations require natural mirrors such as the ionosphere, the moon or swarms of meteorites. Using shortwaves, the CARC is able to communicate with countries as far away as New Zealand, and the fifth antenna it is now installing will make this type of long-range communication even easier. As an alternative to shortwaves, the Club’s members also use non-geostationary satellites or relays built by other radio amateurs.

Taking advantage of its location on the French-Swiss border, the Club also houses a system that connects the Salève relay station in France with the Barillette relay station in Switzerland.

Amateur radio enthusiasts are not only able to follow what’s going on around the world but can also put their technical skills to the test, for example by contacting a maximum number of locations. What’s more, their know-how is often put to good use in the community when it comes to organising rescue operations in the event of natural disasters or locating distress beacons. To become a licensed radio amateur you need to pass a test that allows you to obtain an operator’s certificate and a personal callsign giving you temporary use of a given frequency.

The Club regularly takes part in competitions, coming first in the telephony category of the 2006 French championship and second in the telegraphy category in 2006 and 2007. The challenges vary, and can consist in making a maximum number of connections in a given time, for example, or contacting all regions of a country or a federation. To succeed you need stamina, good organisation, good equipment and, of course, dexterity to be able to tune to the required frequencies. Judging by their prowess, you could be excused for thinking our amateur radio enthusiasts were professionals.

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