By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
Amateur radio – also known as Ham radio – is more popular now than it’s ever been, said Tim Duffy, president of the Mercer County Amateur Radio Club.
That might be surprising considering, if you don’t know a Ham operator, you probably aren’t even aware of the hobby.
With more than 700,000 Hams in the United States, the hobby has grown since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as people felt the need to be more prepared for emergencies and disasters, Duffy said.
“When all else fails, we’re there,” he said. “When the phone companies overload, we’re there. When the power goes out, we’re there.”
The club has its own station at the Mercer County 911 center.
Aside from emergency preparedness, Ham radio is a great way to meet people, learn about people and events in other parts of the world, and network for employment opportunities, Duffy said.
“It’s a tremendous fraternity,” he said.
This week, the 50-member local club is doing its part to grow the fraternity by holding a “Ham in a Day” class Saturday at Pennsylvania State University’s Shenango Campus in Sharon.
The day-long class concludes with a Federal Communications Commission test and those who pass it will earn the most basic of the three levels of Ham operator licenses.
Typically, Ham classes have taken six to eight weeks at the rate of a couple of hours one night a week, Duffy said. It’s possible to earn a Ham license in a day since the FCC removed the requirement that operators know Morse code, said Chester B. “Barney” Scholl Jr., the club’s treasurer.
The class textbook, the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual, is available for $30 at Scholl’s law office at 32 Shenango Ave., Sharon. Interested folks can register for the class when they pick up the book.
There also will be a $15 fee for the 35-question test, payable in cash the day of the class.
People as young as 6 or 7 have earned licenses, and Ham radio appeals to folks of all ages, Duffy said.
It’s not necessarily an expensive hobby as someone can buy basic equipment for a couple hundred bucks, he said, noting that he was given equipment as a kid by adult Hams.
“Like any hobby, the sky’s the limit as to how much you can spend,” said Scholl, of Hermitage.
It depends on your equipment how far your radio can reach. Basic equipment will get you access to other Hams in the area. More sophisticated accouterments can afford you the opportunity to bounce your signal off the moon or Ham satellites and talk with someone on the other side of the world, Duffy said.
“One minute you’re talking to the guy from the local pharmacy and the next you’re talking to Joe Walsh of the Eagles,” said Duffy, who works for DX Engineering of Tallmadge, Ohio, which makes Ham radio equipment.
Hams usually confirm their communications with postcards and Duffy, who has one from Walsh, plastered a wall of his Shenango Township home with Ham postcards from all over the world.
“I think more people know me by my call sign than know my name,” said Duffy, also known as K3LR.
Special interest groups will form – high school classmates, retired railroaders – and meet over the airwaves at preset times and a specific frequency.
“Typically, people don’t talk about politics or religion or things that get muddy,” Duffy said.
Many overseas Hams know English, affording communications with Americans, but Scholl said he knows people who use Ham radio specifically to learn other languages.
“Amateur radio opens doors,” Duffy said. “You meet people. That next person you meet might be your next boss, your next employment opportunity.”
The class starts at 8 a.m. and will be held in Penn State’s auditorium. Organizers expect the test, which usually takes an hour to complete, will be given between 2 and 3 p.m. A box lunch will be provided. Candidates will know that day whether they have passed the test, the FCC will post their call signs in about a week, and the license will come from the FCC later. The license is good for 10 years and is renewable. Information is available at the club’s website, www.w3lif.org