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These kids are the next wave for ham radio

Event in Schenectady gives youths a taste for the hobby, scratchy static and all

By KATE PERRY, Staff writer
First published: Monday, January 8, 2007

SCHENECTADY -- Forget instant messaging. Amateur radio was the thing for some kids across the country Sunday.

In Schenectady, you could hear a young voice over the scratchy static coming from the transceiver -- a radio that can transmit and receive -- set up in the basement of the Schenectady Museum and Suits-Bueche Planetarium.

"Hi -- I'm Carter, and I'm wondering what age you are and what grade you are in. Over," said an 11-year-old calling out from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

He was talking to another kid in New Hampshire, but only the Iowa half of the conversation came in clearly in Schenectady.

Sunday was National Kids' Radio Day on amateur radio frequencies. The event was meant to expose children to a hobby that also serves as an important communications tool when the power is out and phone lines are down.

The Schenectady Museum Amateur Radio Association hosted a local chapter of the event "so the kids get an idea -- you can give them an interest in radio," said Rebecca Maloy, president of the association. "It's part hobby, and some kids are interested in how things work; the electronics part."

Attendance was slim at the museum, with only a few kids showing up in the first half of the two-hour event. But association member Gerald Murray said there are children as young as 4 with licenses to chat it up on the radio.

The Federal Communications Commission regulates the use and frequencies of amateur, or ham, radios and issues three classes of licenses.

Mike Maloy, Rebecca's husband and another member of SMARA, said government regulation is needed because hams, as amateur radio enthusiasts are known, are often called on to help police, Red Cross and other emergency workers during catastrophes.

That's one thing that makes amateur radio special even to a generation that's growing up with e-mail, text messaging and personal digital assistants.

The antennae and radio apparatus used by hams can be set up quickly at the scene of a natural disaster. Through the use of generators, the ham gear will continue transmitting when nothing else will.

"All this technology at anytime could go bust and pretty much we'll always be here," Mike Maloy said.

"When all else fails, amateur radio," Murray said.