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LAWSON: Ham radio still rules airwaves after 100 years

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

It’s 2010. We can all text and tweet. So, why would anyone still use a method of communication that employs late 19th century technology?

Kyle Albritton, president of the Gwinnett Amateur Radio Society and known by call sign W4KDA, says the answer is simple.

“When all else fails, ham radio works,” Albritton said. “After Hurricane Katrina, ham radio was often the only way people could communicate. In disasters, members of Amateur Radio Emergency Services are often the first to respond to provide communication. Our ARES, the biggest in the state, can back up the Gwinnett County communications system, including digital and voice data from the 911 center.”

To be honest, I thought ham radio was something old men did in their basements back in the ’50s. And I wasn’t wrong about that. It’s just that lots of people are still hamming it up in all walks of life all around the world. There are more than 650,000 licensed hams in the U.S. and more than 2.5 million worldwide.

Jess Vics, W2KVN, of Duluth got his license along with his father in 1947 and has been an active ham ever since.

“We love the idea of not knowing who in the world we’ll be talking to next. We love to CQ, which in ham language means, ‘I’ll talk with anyone.” Vics said. “We have hams who regularly contact astronauts and cosmonauts, and once, so the story goes, a message was sent via Morse Code to the moon.”

Newer members of the ham crowd include Jeff Cutchins of Sugar Hill and Hal Collier of Lawrenceville.

“I met Carlton McPherson, WA4ZUW, at Radio Shack while looking for scanners. We started talking and he said I looked like someone who would be interested in ham radios,” Cutchins said. “We went out to play with the ham radio in his car and I got hooked. That was 16 years ago.”

“My grandfather was a ham operator and in WWII he was a radio operator on target planes. I watched him as a kid as far back as 1985,” Collier said.

After his grandfather died, Collier took up ham radio himself and took over his grandfather’s call sign in 2007.

Next weekend, GARS and ARES will be demonstrating Amateur Radio at their Field Day at Sweetwater Park in Lawrenceville. They invite the public to come to this nationwide event to see ham radio’s new capabilities and learn how to get their own FCC radio license before the next disaster strikes.

Using only emergency power supplies, ham operators will construct emergency stations in parks, shopping malls, schools and backyards around North America and connect with as many other hams as possible during a 24-hour period. Last year they made more than 3,000 contacts in every state in the union and province in Canada.

If you have any curiosity about ham radio, come to Field Day next weekend. Remember, hams love to CQ any chance they get

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.