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Elberta To Celebrate Airwaves

Radio Operators To Ham It Up Saturday

By Patrick Sullivan
Traverse City Record Eagle - Traverse City, MI

ELBERTA — Having a chat with someone in Europe or Nova Scotia or Nantucket is much easier than it was 50 years ago, when Jerry Young became a licensed ham radio operator.

Nonetheless, the Bear Lake resident is just as thrilled today to hook up a radio, set out antennas, select a frequency and chat with someone from a far-flung place.

"For a $5 piece of wire, I can talk to anybody in the world," Young said.

That's what he and others plan to do Saturday, as the Benzie County village of Elberta celebrates International Marconi Day, the birthday of a radio pioneer, and holds an open house at the village's newly renovated life-saving station on Betsie Bay.

Festivities are set for 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., with a life-saving station dedication ceremony at noon.

The two occasions Saturday might sound unrelated, but the uniting theme is history — this year is the 100th anniversary of a Marconi radio station being installed in this Lake Michigan port village. And the equipment was once housed in the life-saving station built in 1887.

"It just seemed that we could combine our efforts together and just have a historic theme," said Don Tanner, an Elberta resident and volunteer at the Benzie County Historical Society.

The Elberta station is one of just 70 locations in the world registered as having a historic connection to Guglielmo Marconi, the first person to broadcast a radio signal across the Atlantic Ocean.

Marconi's company installed radio equipment in Elberta for the Ann Arbor Railroad in 1906, making it one of the first radio stations on the Great Lakes. The station used Morse code to communicate with ships.

Young applied for that designation from the Cornish Amateur Radio Club in Cornwall, England.

"It keeps him occupied, it has for 50 years," said Young's wife, Barbara. "He's legally blind, so it's amazing what he can do. He knows his radio just by touch."

Barbara prefers modern means of communication.

"It's lost on me. I'll stick to my hobbies," Barbara said. "I wouldn't even know how to turn his radio on."

Not as many young people get into ham radio today, a reality Young and other proponents struggle against.

"We've always tried to promote it and encourage them to come in. They've made testing easier and you don't have to learn Morse code anymore," he said. "Back in the '30s the testing was really, really strict. You almost had to be an engineer."

Record-Eagle/Patrick Sullivan
Jerry Young of Bear Lake sets up a radio antenna for Saturday's International Marconi Day Event at the fomer U.S. Lifesaving Station in Elberta on Wednesday afternoon. The event celebrates the invention of the two-way radio by the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi.