Hamming It Up: Amateur Radio Is Anything But

Jun 28, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill Bob Schenck during Field Day, a national event for the general public and ham radio operators, which was held last weekend at Wells Mills County Park in Waretown.

When Bob Schenck was 14 his parents gave him a Silvertone transistor radio, and unknowingly a lifelong love affair with ham radio. It was a neighbor, a ham operator himself, who really introduced the teenage Schenck to amateur radio.

“The big bite was being able to connect with people around the world,” the West Creek resident said recently as he prepared for his 53rd Field Day, a national event for the general public and ham radio operators to learn more about the century-old technology. The event itself has been around since 1933. “When I look back on it now, it was the Internet of the 1960s.”

He said connecting with people from around the world on ham radio is a lot like how people use social media to connect with likeminded individuals today.

“I just do it in the air,” Schenck said, adding once he got the bug he quickly immersed himself in different aspects of ham radio, including learning Morse Code, which he still practices today.

Another of his favorite ham radio features is called “contesting,” for which awards are handed out to those who can contact a predetermined amount of other ham operators around the world in a set period of time. He’s contacted someone in every country, including Alaska. No, you read that correctly. Since a country designation for ham radio is based on distance, both Alaska and Hawaii are considered countries.

Although his first contact was with a friend’s dad three blocks away and not all that extraordinary, Schenck remembers it nonetheless. His first amateur radio club was at Bergenfield High School in that small bedroom community in Bergen County.

“I have friends all over the world and we stay in touch using modern communications as well as ham radio,” he said. “We say it’s the communication of last resort. All you have to do is plug in and put a wire up in the air.”

Maybe that’s why ham radio operations are becoming a preferred communication method for survivalists. The technology works in the face of any crisis, and was used in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 at Ground Zero, Schenck said.

“Amateur radio fills in the gap,” he said. “There is a whole wing (of ham radio operators) that train just for that.”

There are more than 725,000 licensed amateur radio operators in the country, and more people are finding their way to the technology with events like Field Day, he said.

“It’s really what did it for me,” Schenck said, adding he received his first ham radio license in February 1964, but it wasn’t until he participated in his first Field Day in 1964 that he really began to see the limitless possibilities.

“It just spoke to me,” he said. “It became more than just a hobby. It’s not just for the general public but for new hams to learn what it’s all about. Field Day, which was held last weekend at Wells Mills County Park in Waretown, sparks many new hams to upgrade their license.

The Old Barney Amateur Radio Club, of which Schenck is president, will also be at the Tuckerton Seaport Aug. 19 to set up a public display and highlight what ham radio can do. Club meetings are held on the first Thursday of every month and anyone interested is welcome to attend. Check out the club’s website at obrc.org for more information.

— Gina G. Scala


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