The Radio Club of America has had an enormous impact on the development of wireless communications over more than a century.
We recently sat down with RCA board members David Bart and Carol Perry and interviewed them to find out more about the club today.
Tell us about the Radio Club of America. What are you all about?
David: The Radio Club of America forms the bridge between the professional world, the amateur world, and the scientific community. The historical genesis of the club, which started 105 years ago, is really about having a forum, a place where people can share their ideas about developing radio and cross-pollinating between their specialty areas.
Today we have digital media and cellular phones and computer media. Many of these newer technologies still use radio waves as the basis for the transmission. So even though we no longer focus on empty vacuum tubes and converting Morse code into voice communication, the Radio Club of America continues to be relevant.
Radio Club of America loves to “honor the past”. What are the great moments in RCA history?
David: I think you need to divide it into four periods.
The first revolves around Edwin Armstrong. His many inventions led to the institutionalization of AM radio, FM radio, and more. The way he bridged the gap between the amateur world and the scientific community is legendary in the radio industry. The second period revolves around the development of the proximity fuse in communications during World War II. These stories and innovations, of course, didn’t come out until after the war ended because of secrecy.
The third period centers around the development of mobile radio with Fred Link. Link was an important writer and major supporter of the Radio Club of America’s Proceedings. Thanks to his support and leadership, the Club expanded in both size and topical coverage. The most recent period moved us into the cellular and digital arenas. The club has experienced quite a revolution in the last 20 years. Its ranks have expanded beyond the technical development people to include educators, marketers, business people, and historians. The club probably has the broadest membership that it has ever had in its history.
So has the club steered away from its origins in invention and research?
David: I would argue no. The club has been very true to its roots. It has simply expanded and developed a much broader following because of its activities in fostering youth and education and its activities in historical research. It truly is a forum and seeks to break down barriers and have people that love communications come together to share their knowledge.
Carole, when it comes to “creating the future,” I think the Youth Education program is a great example. How did that begin?
Carole: In 2007 I found myself on the board of directors. I sat there and said, “What am I doing here?” Previously I taught Ham radio in a New York school, so I came up with the idea to start an education program for high school students and below. And so began this initiative of finding young, technically talented and creative youngsters.
We give students a stipend to buy their own radio equipment and make them eligible for an award called the RCA Young Achiever Award. Some students are then featured at different conventions; including RCA’s own annual technical symposium.
What are some of the success stories from the youth program that stand out in your mind?
Carole: Have you got a week? There are so many that I write a column for CQ Plus, the digital amateur radio magazine.
One of the recent ones – again there were so many – was 12 year old who invented a device that goes on a defibrillator or a pacemaker. When the call goes to the first responder over a Ham frequency, it gives the GPS location and information about the victim. It’s a creation that he came up with, software and all.
Last year we featured two students at Dayton Youth Forum in May and then at the RCA Technical Symposium in November. They created a robotic pole climbing device for public emergency service operations using a Ham frequency. The device was built for fires or hurricanes or emergency conditions and can climb a pole to change light bulbs or raise an antenna.
The RCA Technical Symposium came to a full stop only when these kids were finished presenting! The presentation was so exciting that the audience wanted to get up and look at the robotic device.
What can our readers do to help or get involved in the youth program?
Carole: If anyone knows a teacher interested in getting a Ham radio program going in a middle school or a high school they should contact me. I will help them work with RCA to get a program going with a money grant, equipment, or curriculum. In many cases, I will actually travel to the school to help get things started.
We also support museums that have science programs and Scouting. We donate a lot of radios during the year to Boy Scout troops. So again, if you know someone who would be interested in starting a program with a local museum or the Scouts please contact me.
Additionally, we could always use equipment or funds to help support growing the program around the country.
David: As Carole said, she’s focused on the ages up to high school. RCA also has scholarships that we give to university students. They’re not big amounts, but they inspire interest in the industry. Probably the most important scholarship person that we ever had is Ted Rappaport. He recently stood up at one of our events and commented that he is very proud of his scholarship and that it gave him inspiration and motivation to begin his career He is now a major industry leader developing Think Tanks in educational centers for the wireless technology industry. He established institutes at Virginia Tech and the University of Texas in Austin. Now he is at New York University building a joint engineering and medical technology institute which is looking at the application of wireless in the biomedical fields.
David, what do you see as the future of radio and why is it important to continue educating our youth about radio?
David: I think the future of radio is to continue to be the underlying, critical means by which the information will travel. The dilemma is that the word, “radio, ” is perceived to be an old word. When people hear it they think about old radio shows and don’t realize that it is a current technology. But radio is still a fundamental technology, We need to educate today’s youth to become interested in modern wireless communications. We’re seeing the benefits with innovations from people like Ted Rappaport and the students in Carole’s program.
I’ll quote Bruce McIntyre, RCA President. “It is the goal of the Radio Club of America to help point young people in the direction of choosing a career in the wireless industry. I ask each and every one of you to contribute something to these programs. ”
Tait founder, Sir Angus Tait, was an honored member of the RCA. To learn more about the Radio Club of America, you can find plenty of content and news on their website: www.radioclubofamerica.org
This article is taken from Connection Magazine, Issue 5. Connection is a collection of educational and thought-leading articles focusing on critical communications, wireless and radio technology.
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