Pounding it with the ham radio

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STOKESVILLE – You can hear the slight static coming from a small trailer near the Stokesville Observatory.

It might sound a bit messy, but then you can start to understand what they are saying.

“Kilo, quatre, marine, radio, alpha”, calls out an operator in a portable radio device.

Two people are seated at a small table. One with the radio system and a piece of paper, the other with the hands on the keypad typing in the call numbers. They count who they talk to. The last three letters read “SFL,” which stands for South Florida. The team just spoke to an operator located in four states.

This is called amateur radio and it is a form of amateur radio, which is used for emergency communication purposes or just for fun.

It is connected to a whole system. You could talk to the person across the street or to someone across the country, even across the world.

Gordon Batey at the annual Amateur Radio Day with the Valley Amateur Radio Association and the Massenutten Amateur Radio Association on Sunday June 25, 2017 near Stokesville.

Gordon Batey has been playing with amateur radios since the 1950s. He first started playing with receivers and was kind of hooked. Everything is done without cell phones, without the Internet and without modern equipment – or at least it can be.

With advancements in technology, amateur radios can be fully operated by a computer system called software-designed radio. And then other times it can get super old school with a Morse code with a telegraph key.

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“I think we are a connected world,” said Jared Weaver, Batey’s son-in-law. “But we can come here and get off the grid.”

Over the weekend, the Valley Amateur Radio Association and the Massanutten Amateur Radio Association participated in the annual World Amateur Radio Day, in which people from all over the world participate for a period of 24 hours. The goal is to get as many contacts as possible, or to get in touch with as many different operators and stations.

Valley Amateur Radio has been around since the 1970s and has approximately 50 members. The Massanutten group is an offshoot. Batey has been participating in the annual Country Days for decades and it’s a chance to hang out, camp, and rub shoulders with the region’s hams, as they’re called.

For Batey, it has become a family affair. His son-in-law Weaver joined him in the field day’s events along with his two granddaughters, Kayli and Kristen.

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This weekend they reached Puerto Rico and Canada. This reporter had the opportunity to speak to someone off the coast of Canada, in a boat.

“We try to talk to as many stations as possible,” Batey said.

FIND FREQUENCY

It’s kind of rushing when you hear the call sign – it’s the combination of numbers and letters that people call when they’re talking on a frequency.

“I hear you, super frequency,” Weaver shouts.

All hams must be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. You get certified after passing a test and are able to take to the airwaves. Although during the day in the field, some unlicensed people like Kayli, Batey’s granddaughter, are allowed to help or call numbers, as long as they are with a licensed operator.

“It’s an event to let fans and the general public know what we can do,” said Ellsworth Neff, who came to the event this weekend. “When all else fails, here we are.”

Batey said amateur radios are the simplest form of communication. Remember September 11, when the phone signals were scrambled because everyone was trying to call on their cell phones. With amateur radio, it is on a different frequency, which allows emergency communications to go uninterrupted.

So how do groups work?

An AM radio band is marked from 535 to 1605 kilohertz, according to the National Association for Amateur Radio.

There are other radio spectrum bands for amateur, government, military and commercial radios. Amateurs are assigned 26 bands, according to the association, spaced 1.8 megahertz apart, which is just above broadcast radio frequencies, up to 275 gigahertz, according to its website.

You can scan the tapes, which allows you to speak to someone across town, the world, or even via satellites in space, the association said. There are different forms of communication via radio amateurs. It can be voice, satellite, digital or Morse code.

“There is so much you can experience,” Batey said.

For Batey, he prefers Morse code. He has hearing problems so ham radio can be difficult, especially if he’s talking to someone in another country.

“You never know who is going to talk to you,” he said.

Batey has an ham radio in his car and in the basement of his home in Staunton.

“I like to go out there and go on a CQ (or a call) and see who I’m getting,” he said.

It depends on how they can talk to anyone through it. For Batey with Morse code, he is able to have a full conversation with people in Germany or Russia, for example, without having to translate.

“When you transmit a Morse code signal, it’s a very narrowband signal and it’s very efficient to pass, whereas a voice signal is much wider and not as efficient,” he said. “You can communicate much more effectively with Morse code than with voice.”

It is a skill that people love to pass on. Weaver said people involved in ham radio like to mentor others. Now, this is something he can enjoy not only with his stepfather, but also with his daughters. As technology advances, many radio amateurs enjoy experimenting with new things, despite their age or how they like the old-fashioned methodology of amateur radio.

“As a teenager, I listened to my grandfather’s radio and heard people talking to each other, just ordinary people.” said Jeff Rinehart, one of the founding members of Valley Amateur Radio. “It’s just a regular conversation between people but you can’t see each other.”

Follow Laura Peters@peterslaura and@peterpants. You can reach her at [email protected] or 213-9125.


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