Radio club transmits love of the airways


January 28, 2002|By Sue du Pont | Sue du Pont,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IN AN AGE when cell phones and e-mail seem to keep us in constant contact, it is hard to imagine losing the ability to communicate. On Sept. 11, as in other times of emergency, people lost the ability to connect with each other because of power outages and overloaded telephone systems.

It is times like these that make the simple technology of the shortwave radio as relevant as ever. That's where the Anne Arundel Radio Club comes in.

Members of the Davidsonville-based club run classes to help people become licensed operators. The group provides an enthusiastic and knowledgeable network for experienced and novice operators. Members encourage operators to hone their skills by using the club's South County station and by competing in contests, such as seeing who can reach the most people in 24 hours.

And they encourage operators to participate in the annual Field Day emergency training each June.

Ham radio operators are known for their help in times of emergency, their dedication to community service, and their enthusiasm for their hobby. A single-side band radio only needs a battery, a good antenna and a licensed operator for reliable, worldwide communications - even when cellular phone calls won't go through.

Thanks to emerging technology, the need to be part of a community and the desire to help - or simply remain in contact - in times of emergency, the number of hams is growing at a rate of 4 percent or 5 percent annually in the United States, according to Bob Rose, president of the Anne Arundel Radio Club. More than 700,000 amateur operators are licensed in the United States, and about 350 in Annapolis and South County.

Rose, who is known on the air as AA3RR, said gaining an entry-level or "technician-class" license is not difficult and gives the operator the legal right to send very high frequency (VHF) transmissions, which reach about 20 miles. More than 20 years ago, Holly Bevan (N3MB on the air) and her husband (who is now deceased) took the course so they could keep in touch with their son, who was stationed on a military ship. Although the test was more challenging then, they received their licenses, and ham radio became more than a way to keep in touch with family.

Every weekday morning between 6 and 9 o'clock, Bevan, who now holds the top-level or "extra" license classification, turns her hobby into a public service. She broadcasts traffic and weather information to commuters on the Eastern Shore and in the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas via a shortwave radio in her Crownsville home.

The signal travels from her home to the Anne Arundel Radio Club's repeater in Davidsonville before reaching her daily "commuter net" on car, handheld or home radios. With her "extra" class license, she has access to more powerful, higher frequencies - some frequencies are available only to those with the top license.

"Nets" are groups of people with common interests who communicate at scheduled times. Mariner nets are common among boaters who seek information about weather conditions or Gulf Stream position, and among those who wish to check in daily with others in the same area.

For some on long-distance journeys, the nets offer the only available communication. Bevan says land-based members sometimes use radio to keep track of boating friends traveling the Intercoastal Waterway.

Some club members experiment with combining old and new technologies. The uninitiated might be surprised to learn that modern technologies such as the Internet and Global Positioning System (GPS) have enhanced ham radio in many ways.

As one of its community services, the club helps the Annapolis Striders running club with its long-distance races by following the last runner to the finish line. A member's radio is connected to a small GPS unit, which gives the runner's exact location throughout the race by satellite positioning. That radio operator then transmits pertinent information to another operator, whose radio is connected to a computer with mapping software. This allows organizers to locate the runner.

For the first time, all three astronauts on the International Space Station are ham radio operators. They communicate with students in schools on a regular basis. Also, out in space orbits a low-budget satellite relay built by midshipmen and faculty members at the Naval Academy for ham radio communications. They launched the satellite Sept. 29 from Kodiak, Alaska, and it may be used by any ham radio operator to relay a signal to distant locations on earth.

One of the most exciting aspects of ham radio is being able to reach people around the world at any given moment.

"We like to reach out and see if we can touch someone and we don't know who it will be," says Rose, whose wife, Brenda, and 11-year-old son, Ryan, are operators. "It's a little like going fishing for bass and ending up with perch, but that's what makes it fun."

The Internet and software have made it possible to find out who is calling on which frequency or whether something interesting is happening on the radio before getting on. By watching his computer screen during a recent session, Rose knew that someone from Ireland had called two minutes before, and that another person was calling from the Bahamas.

To sign up for the next introductory course leading to a "technician" class radio license, contact Bob Rose at 410-437-8193 or Holly Bevan at 410-923-0229. The free, 10-week class begins Saturday at Davidsonville Family Recreation Center on Queen Anne's Bridge and Wayson roads.


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