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'Ham' radio still provides needed services

TRI-COUNTY AREA—Communication has advanced so far, it’s amazing what some handheld devices can do.
But as amazing as this technology is, some people still enjoy older forms of communication.  Like amateur radio.  There is an amateur radio club in Yates County, as well as in Hammondsport.  There are also “hams,” or operators, in Schuyler County and across the world.
Rick Kingston is the president of the Yates Amateur Radio Club.  He said that recently members participated in a test done annually in preparation of a disaster.  Amateur radio might be a hobby, but it has become a second means of communication if the power goes out across wide areas.
Kingston said operators can use radio communication when “normal infrastructure” breaks down.
There is equipment set up at Soldiers and Sailors Hospital and the Red Cross in Penn Yan for such an emergency.  Area “hams” would be able to operate radios there and provide a source of communication.
The Yates club also participates in sporting events offering communication with portable equipment.  Kingston said members volunteer at the Musselman and Keuka Lake Triathlons, as well as bicycling tours.  Kingston said the group can muster between 30 and 40 “hams” from the area if needed.
Amateur radio is also one of the few hobbies that require a license.  Kingston said amateur radio doesn’t tie up public service channels and gives users a chance to talk with people from around the world.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions that we’re a lot of old geezers sitting in basements,” said Kingston.
There can be lots of large antennas, but like most technology, amateur radio has also advanced over the years.  He said users can hook up televisions and communicate visually or even receive signals from satellites in space if you know their locations.  He said some Rochester schools let students communicate with astronauts in this way.
As a hobby, “hams” can also build collections.  One way is through QSL cards: written confirmation of a transmission being received.  Robert Dill, a Watkins Glen “ham,”  said they resemble post cards, which give the user’s call letters and location.  The cards can be sent through the mail or through an amateur radio association.  Dill has a collection of ones he’s received.  Some are plain, giving the bare facts of a transmission received.  Others are colorful and feature images where “ham” is from.
“Ham radio is like fishing, you never know what you’re going to catch,” he explained.
Dill said amateur radio operators like making connections with other users in exotic and rare places.  He added he’s spoken with many people who know about Watkins Glen.
Dill said some users like to go to remote locations and set up for a few days, creating one of those rare locations that are popular.  Other users make the equipment mobile and drive around, offering points of communications where there are no “hams.”  That is how some can make contact with the over 3,000 counties in the U.S. 




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