AS Adam Romanchuk spun the dial, the radio sputtered, crackled and finally rang clear.

"Hi, my name is Emily!" a voice chirped from the speaker. "I am 11 years old, and it's 64 degrees here in Phoenix, Arizona... "

John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press Oriyen Funk, 6, gets a ham radio lesson from longtime operator Adam Romanchuk at the St. Vital Fire Hall Sunday.

In a spinning vinyl chair on the second floor of the old St. Vital Fire Hall, six-year-old Oriyen Funk grinned, and squirmed. Though she was too shy to speak to Emily on the microphone -- "We'll have to work on that," father Robin Hillman quipped -- the brief connection, Romanchuk hoped, would spark an interest to last Oriyen a lifetime.

"This is a hobby of friendship," Romanchuk told her, reminiscing about the time he tuned in a radio operator from Poland whom he had talked to 27 years earlier. The two ended up exchanging letters and photos.

Perhaps a few new friends were made as kids of all ages tuned in and turned up on Sunday afternoon, hitting the airwaves as part of amateur radio clubs' kids day. In Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Amateur Radio Club teamed up with the Winnipeg Senior Citizens Radio Club to host about a dozen youth in the studios above the fire hall.

"Kids are always more interested in talking to kids than us old geezers," joked WARC spokesman Jim Sutton, after offering one budding ham radio operator a lesson in antennas.

Sutton himself was only 10 years old when he started fiddling with a transistor radio and discovered he could tune in the BBC; before the days of iPhones and websites, the fuzzy sounds of British radio were a revelation. After a stint in the Canadian military as a radio operator, Sutton wrote the 100-question exam to get his own amateur radio licence.

Now, Sutton hopes to help pass the hobby on to the next generation. Despite living in an era deluged by communications technology, kids are still fascinated by amateur radio, he said. "It seems like a really complicated way to have a conversation with someone, but it's the challenge of doing it," he said. "It's like baking a loaf of bread... it's the challenge of doing it yourself."

Because there is real challenge there; the hobby can mean more than just transient connections with far-away folks. In Winnipeg, amateur radio operators -- there are about 1,000 in Winnipeg, Sutton said -- regularly volunteer to run radio communications for the province and the City of Winnipeg during floods.

Some operators dive deep into learning how to connect to amateur radio satellites. Others compete to see how many different countries they can reach in a weekend, a month or a year.

"The disaster-relief part is really interesting to me," said Alex Spiers, 16, who is studying for his own ham radio licence.

As for the social aspect of amateur radio? Sure, Spiers acknowledged, he could just hit up Facebook, or Twitter.

But there's something about the nuts 'n' bolts of seeking signals that is more appealing. "I like the idea of talking back and forth through the radio," Spiers said. "It's a lot more fun."


Text: Melissa Martin

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