Saturday, April 16, 2011

When shopping for radios, I keep seeing the terms WARC and MARS. Can you elaborate?

Q Craig, KC8POE, asks, “I am a new ham and I am studying
for my General license. When shopping for radios, I keep seeing the terms WARC and MARS. Can you elaborate? What are they, and do I use them when using my radios?”

A WARC stands for World Administrative Radio Conference. These are the folks (meeting in Geneva, Switzerland) who allocate radio frequencies. At the 1979 WARC they gave Amateur Radio three additional HF bands:

30-meters: 10,100-10,150 kHz
17-meters: 18,068-18,168 kHz
12-meters: 24,890-24,990 kHz

To this day, many hams call them the WARC bands. Amateur radio gear made before 1979 was not capable of operating in these new bands. Almost all modern radios, however, offer these bands as standard features.

MARS stands for Military Affiliate Radio System. This is an organization that runs traffic nets on designated frequencies just above or below most Amateur Radio bands. MARS stations also run phone patches from troops overseas. This was very popular during the Viet Nam and Gulf Wars. Most MARS members are volunteers that make their time and stations available, although there are some MARS stations on US military bases.

Most radios in the past were manufactured so that the tuning circuits would work slightly above and below the amateur bands, allowing them to run on MARS frequencies.

Today’s solid state transceivers are capable of operating across the whole HF spectrum and are locked out by the microprocessor from operating outside the amateur bands. A procedure must be performed to “open up” the MARS frequencies. Military personnel at a military installation may operate using only the MARS license, but civilian volunteers must have an Amateur Radio license and a MARS authorization and special call sign for use on MARS frequencies.

From QST March 2001