Their introduction to the world of amateur radio came in different ways.
Don Curtis was still quite young when he started tinkering with car radios.
“I was able to take stuff apart and put stuff together,” says Curtis, who went on to develop a fascination for electronics. That preoccupation led to a career in communications, and an avid interest in amateur radio, also called ham radio. That was more than a half-century ago.
His wife, Janice, current president of the Zephyrhills Area Amateur Radio Club, decided to pursue her license so she could talk to Don when he was on the road.
She’s been licensed for 43 years.
Rich Kennedy, another club member, became intrigued in the pursuit when he was a Scout.
“There was a merit badge for learning signaling,” Rich recalls. “One of the things you had to learn for that, at that time, was Morse Code. I learned Morse Code.”
His scoutmaster was a ham radio operator, so Rich went to his house and saw a multitude of radios. He knew then that he wanted to become a radio operator.
Decades later, Rich still prefers to communicate using Morse Code.
His wife, Peggy, is relatively new to the hobby.
“I love talking around the world. It’s wonderful,” she says.
“My first contact was the Netherlands. Then, I reached Australia. I reached France, and I reached Hawaii.
“Then, when I hit Italy, I spoke to them in Italian because my family is from Palermo.
“I had such a backup of Italians wanting to talk to me, it was incredible,” she says, the memory prompting a smile.
Charlie Nelson, the club’s vice president, has been a ham radio operator for decades.
“My passion is building antennas, primarily because they’re too expensive to buy from the store,” Charlie says.
Much of what he knows has been acquired under the patient tutelage of Don, Charlie adds.
Sharing what they know is a common trait among ham radio operators, club members say.
It’s not unusual, either, for the members to share equipment.
“If they come to the club, and they don’t have money or they need help, chances are one of us will give them a radio,” Charlie says.
It’s a pursuit that can cost as little $30, or as much as $30,000, Charlie adds, depending on what the operator wants or is able to spend on it.
And, it’s a hobby that attracts people from all walks of life, including celebrities, members of royalty, or regular Janes and Joes.
It’s also a hobby that can capture the imagination of young and old, alike.
And, the devices can be adapted so that even people who have physical challenges can still enjoy the hobby, Janice says.
Charlie’s wife, Toni, got into ham radio after marrying Charlie.
And, like other club members, she marvels at what ham radio operators can do.
For example, Rich says, “I can wait for a time when the International Space Station is coming over, and I can listen to the communication with the astronauts and, when it’s my turn, I can talk to somebody on the International Space Station.”
They also step in to provide a vital service during times of disaster, club members say.
When the power goes out, or cell towers go down, ham radios continue to operate.
“The radio operators will go there with their pickup trucks, with their equipment and they will contact the fire department, they will contact the police department. They will keep them abreast of the situation that’s going on and where emergency treatment is necessary,” Peggy says.
The use of ham radios “is integrated into the emergency plan of the state of Florida,” Rich says.
When communication systems breakdown, ham radios can plug the gap.
When Hurricane Michael hit the Panhandle, there were amateur radio operators riding in fire trucks and ambulances because they could communicate directly, Rich says.
Some amateur radio operators are motivated by a desire to be of service to others. Others enjoy the social aspects. Some are drawn to the technical challenges.
There are no age requirements, and no age limits.
“We have 8- and 9-year-olds that are members of our Lakeland club,” Rich says.
“They get on that radio and run circles around the rest of us. They’re just so talented,” Peggy adds.
Anyone who would like to know more is invited to attend a future Zephyrhills Area Amateur Radio Club. The group meets on the third Monday of the month, at Saint Elizabeth Episcopal Church, 5855 16th St., in Zephyrhills. For more information, visit ZAARC.org.
Zephyrhills Area Amateur Radio Club
Where: Saint Elizabeth Episcopal Church, 5855 16th St., Zephyrhills
When: The third Monday of the month. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.; the board meeting starts at 6 p.m.
Details: These amateur radio operators enjoy sharing their knowledge; they step up to help in times of emergency; they step up during times of need; and, they like to talk with people from all over the world.
The club also has an informal breakfast meeting on Thursdays at 8 a.m., at Village Inn, 4214 Gall Blvd., in Zephyrhills.
Frequently asked questions about ham radio
Who uses ham radio?
Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, attracts people of all ages, income levels, nationalities
and walks of life. They communicate in various ways, such as talking into a microphone, sending Morse code, or interfacing their radio with a tablet and typing out a message.
What’s the appeal of ham radio?
Some people simply enjoy talking with others across the country, or world, without the need for the Internet or a cellphone network. Others are attracted by experimenting with electronics. Some want to serve their community during emergencies, such as hurricanes, tornadoes or floods. Some enjoy making new friends with people they meet over the radio.
How much does ham radio cost?
Basic study materials to obtain an entry-level license cost about $40. You can take a license class sponsored by a local amateur radio club, or use online options. You can generally find a good handheld radio for less than $100, and then go from there.
What is the AARL?
The 165,000-member American Radio Relay League was founded in 1914. It is a national association for Amateur Radio in the United States. The association sponsors on-air operating events, and provides books, news, study material and other types of support for individuals and clubs.
Source: The American Radio Relay League. For more information, visit ARRL.org.
Published May 29, 2019