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Local airwaves rehash Allied victory

Penticton Amateur Radio Club gets special permission to transmit with unique call sign and hears from people all over the world

Victory in Europe was declared on May 8 1945 after Nazi Germany finally submitted to the Allied Forces – and to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the momentous event, the Penticton Amateur Radio Club received special permission to transmit using the call sign VE70DAY.

“We can get a special call sign on milestone anniversaries, usually multiples of 25,” said Doug Pichette, past president of Penticton Amateur Radio Club. “But because of how few Second World War vets are left, they made exception in this case and given us permission to use VE70DAY, which is a very unique call sign.”

Call signs are allocated through the Radio Operators of Canada, which bent the rules to allow local history buffs to use to abbreviate the occurrence.

Pichette said that almost always, call signs never have more than one numerical digit.

“We very seldom have two numbers.”

To a non-hand radio enthusiast, the slight variation of digits may not seem significant, but VE70DAY has caught the attention of hundreds from around the world. In the first four days of the month, Pichette said that he spoke with 237 different operators. One contact, who was a Second World War buff from Minnesota – was especially excited to stumble upon Penticton’s amateur radio waves.

Pichette said that as a Canadian, operators from France and Holland are particularly interested in speaking with him – as their countries were liberated by Canadian forces.

In contributing to the war effort, short wave radio operators used their communication skills to assist the Allied victory in Europe. Amateur radio was banned from public use in 1940 as part of the War Measures Act, and many of those who were well-versed in the trade were recruited by the military as communication specialists. Short wave radio experts were among the team to crack the German Enigma Machine, which allowed the Allies to intercept Nazi telecommunications – a strategical feat referred to as “decisive” by former U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower.

In training those agents, a facility was built in disguise as a CBC broadcasting station in Whitby, Ont. The neighbouring Lake Ontario allowed radio signals to be sent to Washington and London. It was later revealed publicly to be the site of Camp X, which was used to train FBI and special agents from Canada, England, and America.

Because documents remained classified for decades after the war, “the intimate stories just started coming out in the last 10 or 15 years; the more detailed stories,” Pichette.

The U.S.S.R. joined the Allies and helped to defeat Nazi Germany as well as the Japanese. But Russian President Vladamir Putin was not invited to European ceremonies commemorating VE Day earlier this week.

“Russia was an ally during the Second World War, but they raised such hate and discontent during the Cold War, and now Putin’s on the high horse again – they don’t deserve to come to the celebration the way they’re acting,” Pichette said.

During peacetime, amateur radio is used more as a hobby, but the operators are always quick to help their fellow man. Pichette said that after the April 25 earthquake in Nepal, the lack of electrical infrastructure made it very difficult to use telecommunications, but a battery powered short wave radio operator was able to communicate his dire situation outside of the disaster zone before any power was restored.

“In an emergency, amateurs are called in to help with communications. When all else fails, we can get through.”

Pichette personally helped one operator, after he stumbled upon an American whose car had broken down in Arizona and was asked to call the nearby sheriff.

Every country in the world licenses amateur radio use among its citizens except for North Korea and Yemen. But during a brief window of opportunity while North Korea was experimenting with the equipment, Pichette was lucky enough to catch two signals from inside the hermit nation – a Russian man in December 2003 and an American in September 2002. He said both were too busy and had very little time to talk.

Discussion about politics however, along with religion, are avoided over short wave radio.

Pichette was first licensed to operate in 1991, allowing him access to the first global chatroom.

“You go out there and make a call, a general call – if somebody hears that and they want to talk they answer then away you go.”

Locally, a short wave radio station is set up in the Penticton Leisure Centre on Winnipeg St. He said there are about 40 members in the Penticton Amateur Radio Club, and while the number remains steady, “us old farts are dying off, so it’ll eventually die off. We’re not getting the young crowd in like we used to.”

But Pichette said that anybody interested can get involved. Study guides are available, and there’s a local examiner who can certify operation.

“You don’t have to be an amateur radio operators if you want to learn – there are lots of people around who will help you.”