Sending strong signalsGary Esler listens intently as the radio crackles to life. He jots down information as his partner’s operating radio equipment connects with someone from Hawaii.
By: Mike Longaecker, Woodbury Bulletin
Gary Esler listens intently as the radio crackles to life.
He jots down information as his partner’s operating radio equipment connects with someone from Hawaii. A Navy veteran who was once stationed in Hawaii, Esler asks for the controls.
“Aloha! Where are you located,” Esler, a member of the Cottage Grove-based South East Metro Amateur Radio Club (SEMARC), asks the other ham radio operator.
The two exchange information before signing off. Connections like these excite the Hastings resident.
“I guarantee you we’ll work all of the United States today,” he says.
The communication took place June 2 at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, where SEMARC members gathered for an event in honor of the air field’s namesake.
The event commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Midway, which was considered the turning point in the Allies’ war in the Pacific.
The Battle of the Midway was also where Capt. Richard Fleming, a St. Paul native, died in battle. The Navy pilot died during an attack and was posthumously awarded the military’s highest recognition: the Medal of Honor.
Fleming flew back into battle on just four hours of sleep – and after assuming leadership after his immediate superiors had been killed, explained SEMARC member Jim Boyd.
“He was really given the award for his leadership,” the Cottage Grove resident said. “We’ve done this because of our support not only for him, but for all of our military.”
SEMARC members chose to honor Fleming – and the anniversary of the battle – as part of their ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the club and to sharpen their skills on the airwaves.
Amateur radio operators, also known as ham radio operators, enjoy the hobby side of the activity, but point out that there also is a very public service-oriented side of the pastime. When all other communication systems fail, the apparatus remains in place for ham radio operators to send and receive transmissions.
Esler noted that in the early days after Hurricane Katrina, it was ham radio operators who relayed critical information to emergency service crews to summon help.
On June 23, SEMARC members will gather in Cottage Grove to practice for just that kind of a scenario. SEMARC will simulate what could happen in the event of a disaster when they work off of emergency power.
SEMARC currently has 50 members from across the area, including Woodbury, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Rosemount and Cannon Falls. They are members of some 700,000 licensed hams in the United States, “yet we seem to be an invisible hobby,” Esler said.
That’s why he said activities like the Fleming Field event are essential to maintaining visibility.
Hams use two-way radios to communicate over frequencies set aside by the Federal Communications Commission for noncommercial use. Operators are all tested and licensed by the federal government.
Originally lured into the world of amateur radio in college, Woodbury resident Dave Finley said he is drawn to the conversational side of the hobby. He said he uses his hand-held radio to talk with other operators several times a week, often on his way to or from work.
“It’s a fun hobby,” he said.
With his ability to reach people worldwide, Finley has been able to put friends in touch with people from around the world. During college, he was able to connect a friend with his family in Bolivia via amateur radio.
He’s even got his daughter in on the action.
“It’s kind of a family thing now,” Finley said.
Indeed, many hams enjoy interacting with others they encounter on the radio. A common practice among hams is to send out self-addressed stamped envelopes to operators they meet on the airwaves. In return, they receive cards from their counterparts indicating their location and call sign.
“Hams love to work these things and collect cards,” Esler ssaid.
SEMARC will participate in “Field Day” June 23-24, where they will gather at Cottage Grove Fire Station No. 2 in a nationwide effort to work as many stations as possible on all amateur bands and to learn to operate in abnormal situations in less than optimal conditions. The event is free and open to the public.