JUNEAU - Long before the internet and cell phones, there was high frequency radio commonly known as shortwave radio.
Juneau's Hams 041509 NEWS 1 CCW Staff Writer JUNEAU - Long before the internet and cell phones, there was high frequency radio commonly known as shortwave radio.

Photo By Libby Sterling

From left to right: Don Squires (KD7WN), Bob Simpson (NL7XZ), David Bruce (WL7BKA), Glenn Sicks (KL0QZ), Eric Bailey (WL7CMT), Pat Moore (AL7L), Paul Hamby (KL0XE), Charles Gray (KL7IG) and Jim Cummins (KL7IYD) are members of the Juneau Amateur Radio Club.

Photo By Libby Sterling

Glenn Sicks proudly displays his callsign on his van's license plate.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Story last updated at 4/16/2009 - 10:04 am

Juneau's Hams
Radio enthusiasts use their hobby to benefit communities

JUNEAU - Long before the internet and cell phones, there was high frequency radio commonly known as shortwave radio.

Though most people prefer to communicate using more contemporary technology, shortwave radio is still widely used and considered by operators to be a reliable method of communication. Shortwave radio by amateur radio operators is still commonly used during natural disasters, in remote areas and in navigating land and sea. Radios are present and used during the Iditarod, Yukon Quest and other wilderness races around the state, as well as in local events such as Juneau's Fourth of July parade.

There are nearly 300 licensed amateur radio operators in Juneau, who call each other "hams." Each has met requirements set by the Federal Communications Commission, by passing a licensing test and been given a unique call sign that they use to identify themselves over the airwaves. Every amateur radio operator licensed in Alaska has the letter "L" in the second position of the call sign. No other state or U. S. territory has an "L" in this position.

The Juneau Amateur Radio Club consists of anything but amateurs, as far as skill level is concerned. The licensing process requires extensive knowledge of electronics, communication techniques and key concepts. The term "amateur" simply refers to the fact that members communicate on a strictly volunteer basis. It is illegal for a ham to change for their services, or conduct commercial business on their frequencies and they say they would not accept a reward if offered to them.

According to Paul Hamby, one of the best parts of the radio community is the lack of anonymity. Operators are required to always identify themselves with their call sign when they speak, which helps to self-regulate the radio network.

Eric Bailey's interest in ham radio started in singlehanded and doublehanded sailing. He has outfitted several vessels with shortwave radios which have successfully completed voyages around the world. The radios allow these vessels the ability to send and receive calls from great distances, to obtain weather information, email while at sea and to seek aid during emergencies.

Glenn Sicks primarily adopted the hobby for emergency response purposes. Sicks spends winters in Arizona and summers in Alaska, driving back and forth year after year.

"What I've found is cell phones and CB (citizen's band) radios are totally worthless on the Alaska Highway, whereas with high frequency radio I can talk to both Arizona and Alaska during my whole trip," Sicks said.

Since he installed a shortwave radio into his van several years ago, Sicks said he hasn't used his cassette player because he has so much fun talking to people.

In addition to roadside assistance and emergency response, Sicks said he enjoys meeting the many hams who visit Juneau via cruise ship. He also shares good fishing spots over the shortwave bands rather than on the marine VHF radio, which is monitored by all large ships and most small vessels. Thanks to shortwave radio, his secret spots remain secrets.

Sicks recalled one particular evening when he heard a call on the line from a distressed hang glider who had crashed on Mt. Roberts. The man said he wasn't in immediate danger, but made the call just in case. Sicks and a friend stayed on the radio and talked with the man all night until he made it to safety.

Pat Moore met and courted the woman who is now his wife, via shortwave radio. At the time, they lived in different parts of the state and preferred to use radios rather than pay for high long distance telephone calls.

Moore also benefited from the use of amateur radio after the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. He was in college at the time at Washington State University and he was worried about his parents who lived close to the epicenter of the quake. Phones were down, but he was able to contact his parents over the radio to find out that they were safe in the aftermath of the disaster.

The earthquake prompted the formation of the Alaska-Pacific Net, a regularly scheduled on-air meeting that may be attended by any ham. The AP Net meets weekday mornings on 14.292 MHz.

"I like to talk to people all over the world," said David Bruce, vice-president of the Juneau club. "I guess you could do it with a cell phone, but after the initial investment, shortwave radio is free. It's a real high to talk to someone on the other side of the world."

Bruce said that a very high percentage of young people who get into amateur radio go on to study science in college.

Bruce was first licensed when he was in high school, though he let his license expire and didn't revisit his hobby again until about 25 years ago. Now he is more dedicated than ever and attends the club's weekly meetings. Once each month, the club meets at the National Weather Service Forecast Office, which has designated a space for them to keep and use their radio equipment, especially in the case of an emergency.

All hams abide by The Amateur's Code, written by Paul M. Segal, W9EEA, in 1928.

The radio amateur is:

Considerate: Never knowingly operates in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others.

Loyal: Offers loyalty, encouragement and support to other amateurs, local clubs and the American Radio Relay League, through which amateur radio in the United States is represented nationally and internationally.

Progressive: With the knowledge abreast of science, a well-built and efficient station and operation above reproach.

Friendly: Slow and patient operating when requested; friendly advice and counsel to the beginner; kindly assistance, cooperation and consideration for the interests of others. These are the hallmarks of the amateur spirit.

Balanced: Radio is an avocation, never interfering with duties owed to family, job, school or community.

Patriotic: Station and skill always ready for service to country and community.