by James Coulter
How do you like to talk to other people? On your cell? With your landline? Maybe you enjoy video chatting with Zoom or Skype? Some people, like those in the Lake Wales Amateur Radio Club, love to communicate the old-fashioned way.
Every month, the club meets in a different location in the county to share their love of ham radio and other forms of analog radio communication. Sometimes they talk to people from across the county. Other times, from across the world. They’ve even talked to astronauts on the International Space Station.
“If they are flying over, we have had people talk to people on the space station,” said Mike Green, Vice President of the Lake Wales Radio Amateur Club. “There are folks that bounce signals off the moon. Some folks talk with satellites in orbit specific for ham radio.”
Last Saturday, the club met in Fort Meade Park to set up nine stations for QRP, or low-power radio. More than 15 people gathered together to utilize analog radios and antennas with ten watts of power or less and see how far away they could reach people. One person was able to talk to someone in Pennsylvania, Green said.
Their club meets once a month. Their general meetings are hosted at the Lake Wales Fire Department, with other meetings throughout the county. They often receive a good turnout. Last month, they had about 30 people in Lake Rosalie with nine stations and 15 people, despite it being summer vacation, Green said.
While most members love ham radio, others use other forms of analog radio communication. Some use voice mode. Others use morse code. And some use their computers to send data and receive information. Regardless, they have all contacted people from as far as around the world or even in space.
“That is the neat thing about ham radio: you can contact someone around town or around the world depending on your equipment,” Green said. “This is a fellowship thing. We bring out stuff together and we set it up and test out. We put our heads together and fix it and have a good time.”
Often, they utilize their skills to assist with public service, especially in emergencies. Major storms can wipe out telephone, cellular, and internet services. So when those are down, ham radio can still be utilized to make important calls. They have even assisted with communication for the annual Lake Wales Mardi Gras parade.
Their county has a widespread system that allows them to communicate long distances. Several antennas and repeaters are set up in various cities and throughout the county, that club members can access and utilize when making their calls. And while many prefer old-school forms of communication, others have utilized new forms of technology to extend their reach.
Mike Lunsford was always interested in ham radio. He wanted to engage with it as a hobby, but never had enough time. Once he retired, he had plenty of free time, so his wife encouraged him to do something with it. He passed his test, because a technician, and has since been with the club for eight years, currently serving as its president.
As president, he helps people on a day-to-day basis with their various projects. He loves the overall camaraderie with other people who share his same interest. Many people love to communicate, whether it be over the phone or on the internet, but folks like him love to study how people can communicate with different technology.
“Everyone wants to talk on the cell phone and communication device but they do not understand how it works. Basically, that is what we are doing,” he explained. “It is technology. It attracts the geek because there is something from being able to talk around the world on a computer to an internet-based radio system, which is some of the modern stuff you can get into…or the old-fashioned wire and morse code. There is something for everybody. There is a flavor of ham [radio] for everyone.”
Russell Delaney has been using ham radio for 32 years. He has been a member of the club for the past year and a half, having moved to Florida from Michigan 17 years ago. As a member of the club’s QRP committee, he and his other members practice setting up their gear in case of an emergency like a major storm. They learn how to repair their gear and fix problems when they arise. During an emergency, every second counts, so they need to be prepared just in case.
“I am a person who believes you should learn something new every single day, in case of a disaster, everything you have learned will make you a better person and communicator, especially in an emergency,” he said. “It is getting together with the people and sharing ideas and learning something new…Out of all the clubs that I belong to, in the course of moving around, this club here is more down-to-earth, and they are extremely friendly, and everybody is always willing to help.”
The Lake Wales Amateur Radio Club meets on the second Thursday of the month at the Lake Wales Fire Station at 7 p.m. The public is invited to attend and learn more about Amateur (Ham) Radio. For more information, visit their website at: http://lwra.us.