Crawford Amateur Radio Society members are extremely valuable, said Allen Clark, director of the Crawford County Emergency Management Agency.
“They provide a radio network that’s separate from the public safety network that can support us in an emergency,” Clark said. “We’re glad to have them as backup communication.”
Many members of CARS have received training in emergency manager and incident command, Clark said. In addition, many of them have been through the National Weather Service’s Skywarn class, which enables volunteers to be trained by the NWS to be able to notice and report significant weather conditions.
“They’re a vital link for us in communications — getting or sending out information,” Clark said. “We have them in our plans.”
Both Meadville Medical Center and Titusville Area Hospital have amateur radio equipment, as does the Crawford County EMA, to serve as communication backup in major emergencies.
As far as the contest is concerned, Hall said that CARS has won first place in its division within western Pennsylvania for the past six years, being first in the entire state for two of those six.
While the contest is purely a matter of pride, ability and bragging rights, the atmosphere in the recently acquired trailer in which two radio stations are set up establishes a buzz of excitement.
“If you ain’t talking, we ain’t winning,” Jamie Tolbert, president of CARS at one station, told Todd Shiffer, the man operating the radio to Tolbert’s right. Shiffer, who was attempting to get in contact with a specific station, began talking into the microphone hooked up to his radio shortly after.
Aside from the application in emergency services and the ARRL contest, those who have been amateur radio operators for a while often have interesting stories and connections of which to tell. Hall once connected with a man from the island of Mallorca, off the coast of Spain.
“Most people in world can speak enough English to tell you what kind of antenna they have,” Hall joked.
Tolbert, who has been involved with amateur radio since 1973, particularly enjoys searching out other people across the globe, a skill called DXing, which came from the telegraph shorthand DX to signify “distance.”
The ARRL identifies 340 entities globally, which includes countries and specific islands across the world that can be contacted through amateur radio. Out of these 340, Tolbert has made contact with 337, only missing contact with North Korea, and Bouvet and Crozet islands of the Antarctic.
There is a scientific expedition planned for the island of Bouvet in January 2016, a time Tolbert has already requested off from work so he can focus on contacting the island. Tolbert has also made contact with both American and Russian space stations.
Gary Chisholm, another director of CARS, started amateur radio operating in 1958. At that time, to be licensed, individuals had to travel to Buffalo, N.Y., to take the tests in front of the Federal Communications Commission.
“It was like talking a test in front of the Gestapo,” Chisholm said, referring to the former secret police of Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe.
Chisholm personally made contact with the Jonestown killers when he used to run phone patches, which essentially transmitted a message over a distance until somebody close enough to make a telephone call received the information. More than 900 people were led to their deaths in a mass suicide via cyanide-laced punch in 1978 in what became known as the Jonestown Massacre. The logs Chisholm had recorded were eventually seized as evidence.
With the physical distance that amateur radio can cover, it comes as no surprise that Hall feels there are no real social barriers involved in the field.
“That’s the one thing I love about (amateur) radio: We are just so diversified,” Hall said. “We span everybody and there’s no snobby club.”
Cliff Butcher, a member of CARS, agreed with the sentiment, stating that anybody who can read and write can become a licensed amateur radio operator.
While a person’s level of financial involvement can vary greatly, the average cost to get started with basic equipment is about $100, Hall said.
“It just depends how far you want to go,” Hall said, explaining that some equipment can cost up to $8,000 for the high-end hardware.
As of Sunday at 2 p.m., the ARRL contest had ended, Tolbert said. The club made 157 voice connections and 669 connections using Morse code. These contacts included all of the U.S. except Alaska, including Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Every province in Canada except Newfoundland was also contacted.
Official results will not come through the ARRL for approximately six months. Tolbert expects those results early in 2016.
Did you know?
The Crawford Amateur Radio Society has its meetings every third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at St. Brigid Roman Catholic Church, 383 Arch St. Any individuals wishing to take licensing tests can take them at 6:30 p.m., as long as prior notice is given. The test fee is $15. CARS’s website is w3mie.org.
Amanda Spadaro can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Tribune’s Keith Gushard contributed to this story.