Local ham radio operators seek to inspire new hobbyists

Posted 10 April 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Sue Cook – Bruce Sidari holds up a hand transmitter, which usually transmits only a couple of miles, but can be boosted with a repeater device to reach much further. There is a repeater at the Orleans County Civil Defense Center, which is connected to the very tall antenna on top of the building.

By Sue Cook, staff reporter

ALBION – The Orleans County Amateur Radio Club is encouraging new participants in ham radio. The group held a presentation at the Orleans County Health Department on Wednesday to explain the hobby to the public and provide a starting point for those interested.

“There’s so many aspects of ham radio you can do cheaply or more expensively depending on the way you want to go with it,” said Terry Cook, Club President.

There are over 7,000 ham radio clubs and over 2 million amateur radio operators worldwide. Every operator around the world has a unique call sign, which is the ham radio version of a phone number.

The Orleans County Club is around 60 years old. The original call sign for the group (WA2DQL) used to belong to Albion dentist Doctor Jackson. When Jackson passed, the club took over his call sign in honor of his memory. The club has 35 members, but there are close to 50 people in Orleans County that are radio operators.

“You can have a lot of fun at this hobby and not know anything about technology,” said Program Manager Bruce Sidari.

The club doesn’t want people to be intimidated by the technology. Radios can be purchased inexpensively and can offer a gateway into further education with very minimal effort.

To receive a license to operate a ham radio with a call sign, a person must take a test. Someone seeking a license would attend a four-hour class and then take a test at the end to receive the lowest license level of technician. They learn the basics and regulations to be able to operate a radio. Other more advanced classes can be taken to become licensed further by the FCC to allow for use of different frequencies.

These are QSL cards. They are sent out as a confirmation of a conversation over ham radio or as a reminder that the call signal on the card would like to continue contact with the recipient. Some of the cards in this photograph are from Germany, the Azores, Russia, Wales, Japan and Chile.

Anyone young or old can become an amateur radio operator. The Radio Club wants kids to become involved because it’s a great skill to have, despite other modern technology like the internet being so prominent. It can help with learning other skills like robotics or basic electronics.

“If there’s anything we love, it’s to see kids interested in amateur radio,” Sidari said.

Anyone can benefit through ham radio, whether from the communications aspect or studying other cultures by speaking directly to a person from another country.

Ham operators are especially important during emergencies. When Hurricane Katrina brought down communications systems in Louisiana, ham operators were able to help emergency crews and to pass messages from family members in different areas. Locally, when the a snowstorm struck in October 2006, the ham operators helped with emergency calls until normal operations could resume.

The signals are nearly instantaneous by traveling at the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second. Some operators like to bounce Morse code signals off the moon as a personal challenge. The moon is 238,900 miles away. The signals take about one and a half seconds to arrive at the moon and then travel back in another one and a half.

Many astronauts are ham operators and communicate as they pass over various landmasses. The club showed a video of astronaut Col. Doug Wheelock communicating with the United States and Mexico as the International Space Station passed over North America.

Besides hand transmitters, other simple, but more powerful radio equipment can be purchased for people who want to dabble in the hobby and not commit to costly equipment.

Amateur radio operators can also have far reaching capabilities. Operators with the right equipment can reach out to anywhere in the world that has an operator that answers back. The local Radio Club has spoken to many countries. The operators from most countries frequently speak a little English to communicate at least briefly.

The club also participates in several contests throughout the year. On the fourth Saturday in June is Field Day. The club sets up two radio stations at the Orleans County Emergency Management Center and competes against other groups around the world to try and contact as many other operators as quickly as possible in a 24-hour period.

Another major event the group participates in is the International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend at the Oak Orchard Lighthouse. The event is a contest with the goal to contact as many lighthouses in a day as possible.

The group will be having a meeting this coming Monday and would love for people to come see what they do, whether to observe or start on the path of becoming an operator. The club holds meetings every second Monday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the Orleans County Emergency Management Center located at 14064 West County House Road in Albion.

For more information, visit the OCARC website.