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Surfing Radio Waves: A Global Community

Amateur Radio Operators Get Joy, Satisfaction From Hobby

By Monica Young
Thursday, May 25, 2006


Rick Grubbs, Ike Muse and Charlie Holt, local amateur radio operators, traveled to Dayton, Ohio, to meet others who enjoy the hobby.

They recently joined a group led by Bill Lundy of Mount Airy, a part-time tour-bus driver and amateur-radio enthusiast.

Muse, who obtained his amateur radio license in 1963, said, "We're interested in radio, and we just have a lot of good fellowship,"

Amateur radio operators, also known as ham radio operators or hams, can communicate in a high-pitched language of short and elongated beeps and blips of Morse code. With tiny taps on components hooked to a radio, messages can be transmitted around the world.

Every year, thousands of people attend the annual Dayton Hamvention in Ohio, an event staged by the Dayton Amateur Radio Association since 1952. The Hara Arena is transformed into a space with more than 600 exhibitors while the parking lot holds 2,500 "flea market" booths.

Grubbs, 56, said he got interested in amateur radio 19 years ago. He has a radio merit badge that he earned as a Boy Scout at Waughtown Baptist Church.

He built a crystal radio receiver out of an oatmeal box with wire wrapped around it and a crystal diode. He was able to pick up AM radio stations - some many states away.

"I remember I was supposed to be in bed," Grubbs said. "WOWO in Fort Wayne, Ind., was talking about it snowing. It opened things up for me. There was a whole world outside of Winston-Salem and Kernersville."

As an adult, Grubbs worked as an engineer for Duke Power Co., a career that spanned 35 years. The extensive communication system Duke Power uses piqued his interest. Grubbs used a scanner to monitor local police and emergency personnel activity as part of his duties as a volunteer firefighter.

"One thing led to another, I guess; and I got into amateur radio," said Grubbs who served as president of the Forsyth Amateur Radio Club in 1992.

What drives many individuals in amateur radio is the aspect of public safety.

Grubbs said that during such disasters as Hurricane Katrina, communication systems typically are knocked out. That is why amateur radios are so important, he said.

Grubbs is using a small unit while he rebuilds his larger radio, a portable unit that rests on the frame of a hospital gurney.

"Amateur radio clubs work closely with the Red Cross," Grubbs said.

The Forsyth Amateur Radio Club station is in the basement of the Northwest N.C. chapter of the American Red Cross in Winston-Salem.

Many operators also participate in Skywarn, a program that coincides with the National Weather Service. Many of the outlying weather reports on the local news programs come from operators who send in their weather reports.

While talking to someone across the world with a ham radio was once a notable occurrence, e-mail, blogging and the Internet have made global friendships common.

"Youth today can't appreciate this with computers, real time and Web cams," Grubbs said.