By Chelsea Royer
Ham radios are an old-school method of communication. We catch glimpses of the radios in World War II themed movies. With tall antennas, a boxy exterior, and math skills needed to operate the device, a license is required for one to access the airways.
The ham radio has been used to communicate in times of war, during important military missions, and to reach those traveling in outer space. Though not available for mainstream usage, professional and amateur groups remain to operate this tradition when all other communication devices fail. When the internet goes out, cell phone towers are down, or landlines cease working because of disaster, ham radio operators are at the ready.
The term “ham radio” was first a pejorative used to mock the users but was later adopted as their moniker as a result of good humor. Though there’s nothing to laugh at when a local ham radio amateur makes contact with a fellow enthusiast halfway around the globe.
Nathan Kennedy is a Grays Harbor local and amateur ham radio operator. His interested began in seventh grade. “At the middle school I went to, the science teacher had a ham radio set up. If we got our work done early we got to go and fire up the radio. We had a tower that went up about 50 feet in the air with a big antenna. Everyone knew when we got done early because they could hear us out there cranking up the tower,” Kennedy chuckled.
Now, over 25 years later, Kennedy continues his hobby in the form of the Grays Harbor Amateur Radio Club. On the first Thursday of every month in the Hoquiam branch of the Timberland Public Library, retired Army Veteran John Adams brings the gavel down to commence their monthly meeting. This month, Adams stressed responsibility and readiness. His military background comes through in the way he commands the group to be “at ease” when bringing people back on task. Adams takes his presidency of the club very seriously. Not knowing when disaster could strike, he encourages people to be there on the annual field day and also when they set up on lighthouse day.
Field day happens once a year in Morrison Park in Aberdeen. There, the club sets up with tents, ham radios, antennas, and a generator to run through emergency procedures and practice contacting other ham radio operators around the country. Other practices occur at nearby lighthouses where Adams was able to contact a fellow operator in New Zealand as well as the California coast.
The Grays Harbor Amateur Radio Club has been meeting for nearly 60 years. Begun in 1964 by a chiropractor named Charles Gibson, he used his office as a meeting space for the first Grays Harbor club meeting. Today, the club has about 20 active members and a total membership equalling between 60 and 70 people. Each has a separate call sign used for getting in touch with one another. Kennedy’s call sign, for example, is KF7KOL. W7ZA is the call sign for the club as a whole.
Outside of emergencies, the club is eager to serve the public with their abilities in other areas. The recent Founders Day Parade utilized members of the club throughout the parade to maintain communication and have a backup plan in case of injury or emergency. Members like Kennedy enjoy using their hobby to benefit the community and putting their practice to good use.
On a personal and hobby level, radio operators enjoy connecting to people all over the globe on various frequencies while some have regular meetings via the radio.
Kennedy expressed his eagerness to use a sky sled in conjunction with his ham. Kennedy plans on attaching antenna wire to the sky sled while out at the beach where it will soar into the air and maintain its distance. There, with nothing but waves between he and other countries, Kennedy will sit with his radio and attempt to reach people who are of different nationalities but possess similar interests.
The Grays Harbor Amateur Radio Club connects people locally as well as globally while simultaneously providing a service that receives very little appreciation. There isn’t much practicality for using ham radios on a daily basis in Grays Harbor County. But come an emergency or disaster on a local or national level, there will be a desperate need for communication. A need club members will be ready and prepared to meet thanks to their practice and dedication to the community.
You can find the Grays Harbor Amateur Radio Club at the Hoquiam Library, at 7:00 p.m., the first Thursday of every month. They encourage interested parties to drop in and learn or become a member themselves.