When Finksburg’s Fred Merker first developed his interest in becoming an amateur radio operator – or ham radio – cell phones and other handheld communication devices were still the stuff of science fiction and comic strips. Dick Tracy.
Now that cell phones and wireless internet are almost inevitable, Merker and the other members of the Baltimore Polytechnic Alumni Radio Club fill a very different, but still vital, role in communications. Each year, the group participates in the American Radio Relay League Field Day, where their proficiency in various forms of radio communication will be tested to judge their effectiveness in an emergency.
“The idea is that if there’s a power outage due to snow or a hurricane, we hams can help the community and deploy our communication skills,” Merker said.
The field day takes place over a 24-hour period, and judges ham radio groups on how many connections they are able to make with other radio amateurs. Merker said each group is required to set up antennae specifically for use during competition. The Polytech Group set up shop in Merker’s backyard, with four different antennas powered by a single gas generator and transmitting different forms of information. The members split into several different stations; some communicated by Morse code, some by voice, and some by digital text information transmitted by radio waves.
Ron Tassi, who ran one of the stations, said the reason the radio provides such an important function in emergency situations is the ease with which a system can be set up.
“With modern communication, you need infrastructure,” Tassi said. “You need the Internet or a power grid and satellites. When a major disaster occurs and all of that fails, amateur radio is a stand-alone system.
More than a decade ago, Merker said, he was called upon to use his radio skills to help police and firefighters during a tornado that struck Gamber.
“It’s amazing what can be done with very low power,” Merker said. “It’s a very effective way of conveying information and it’s very effective.”
Merker said he was first drawn to the workings of amateur radio in college, when he discovered his love of electronics. After retiring from a broadcasting career, Merker rediscovered his hobby with his other high school ham friends.
“Being a ham is really about staying in touch with friends using the radio,” Merker said. “I don’t know why I love talking to people on the radio and not on the phone, but I do. I like to solve any problems that may arise with our equipment. »
Merker said it was difficult to attract younger hams to the field.
“We say we can communicate worldwide, but they say ‘We can already do that. I am on Facebook and I communicate with my friends. Why do I need an amateur radio? “Said Merker. “It is difficult to maintain the hobby. The internet, Wi-Fi and cell phones have stolen some of the intrigue and mystery from amateur radio.
Jared Schuman is one of the new members of the Polytech group. He said he discovered them through an Internet group for amateur radio enthusiasts.
“I’ve only been fired for about a year,” Schuman said. “I was interested because citizen radio was very popular when I was a child and my father had a station at home that intrigued me. It sounded so interesting that you could go ahead and talk to someone for free. I wanted to be part of this world.
Schuman operated the digital station. He said one of the benefits of new digital technology is that messages can be transmitted more compactly, with 30 different conversations fitting into the same amount of bandwidth as a single spoken conversation.
“That’s where a lot of the technological advancements in the hobby are formed,” Schuman said. “The basics have always remained the same, but the equipment continues to evolve and provide new opportunities.”