Vital air time: Ham radio still needed in emergencies

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On a weekend in June, more than 40,000 amateur radio operators fanned out across North America for the American Radio Relay League Field Day.

It is a big day that is kind of an open house for amateur radio enthusiasts to show off their capability and demonstrate their commitment to public service.

Unfortunately, the Wilson Amateur Radio Association didn’t have enough members to participate.

“It didn’t pan out this year. This is the first year that we have not had a field day since I have been in the club,” said Howard Klino, who has been president of the WARA for the last 22 years.

Back in 1985, the club had more than 30 active members. Now the roster is down to 10, and not all of them are active.

Klino,78, points to the proliferation of cellphones and their ease of communication over great distances as a drag on the club’s membership.

“People still feel that the cellphone is going to be the way to talk. Unfortunately, the system is only built to handle so many people,” Klino said.

Klino points to a severe ice storm in the Raleigh area a few years back as an example.

“In a half an hour, the system was overloaded,” Klino said.

Overloaded cell towers were cited for the lack of communications on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City.

“You could have cellphone towers that were blown down. You’re dead as far as communications,” Klino said. “There have been so many times in different countries where the hams are the only ones to have it.”

There is a total of 90 ham radio operators in Wilson County, Klino said.

It once was that in times of national or regional emergency, “hams” were the go-to folks to establish vital communications.

Klino said that is really still the case.

“It will be your only way of communicating during a disaster,” Klino said.

It’s just like Klino’s bumper sticker declares: “Ham Radio Saves Lives.”

“We have stations that can talk not only locally, but all over the world,” Klino said. “I think that just about every person that’s in the club has it so they can take it all on the road. Most have handheld units in their cars. We have our own generators, antennas, everything.”

Klino’s members are ready to go on a moment’s notice.

“It’s just set up to go wherever they need it,” Klino said. “In the event somebody needs us if a person gets lost in the woods or something, we’ll go set up to help communications between points, and also go out with people searching.”

The capability of radio is staggering.

Klino recalls getting a new mobile set for his car a few years ago and the first time he used it he was able to speak with someone in eastern Europe.

In the coming weeks Klino said WARA’s repeater will be hooked into a new program called EchoLink.

EchoLink is a new software that allows amateur radio operators to join together traditional radio capabilities with the added connectivity of the internet.

“You have to be a licensed ham to use this thing. You can talk to people all over the world with this EchoLink,” Klino said. “We have a system here in town that’s a repeater. It listens to me and retransmits at a higher power, mobile or at home, whatever. Within a couple of weeks, that EchoLink will be tied to our local repeater,” Klino said.

Ham operators will use the microphone set, which has the same tones as phones and automatically connects to the system. They will punch in a code that will connect them to a specific locale.

“It can be anywhere in the world, but it has to have the internet connected. That’s the drawback. Right now there’s 5,787 stations that are on EchoLink. This is worldwide and 13 percent of them are actually busy right now,” Klino said.

Klino is the legal trustee of the club’s Federal Communications Commission-assigned call letters.

The club has a “vanity call.” It is WA4WAR, which stands for “We’re Always 4 Wilson Amateur Radio.”

Klino is all about radio.

He built a radio from scratch at age 13 as an experiment at his hometown of Niagara Falls, New York.

“I woke up one morning and someone was talking on it. The guy was three blocks away,” Klino recalled. “That’s what got me interested.”

He joined the Army 1956 and learned more about it in basic radio school training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

For his career, Klino was an electronics technician by trade.

At his Gardner School Road home, there is a room packed with radios and radio components.

He has lost count of the radios in his radio room. They are on all four walls.

“A lot of them are duplicates because I like to monitor different channels at the same time,” said Klino. He listens to the local repeater 24/7 because he’s in charge of it.

“I have got to keep an ear on what goes on,” Klino said.

“When I started, you built a lot of your equipment,” Klino said.

“The unfortunate thing is the equipment and the components are so doggone small, there is no way to replace it. The normal person can’t work on them,” Klino said. “When you are dealing with components the size of an ant, there is no way you can work on them.”

Radios these days are built to throw away when they get broken.

Klino holds up a small radio not much larger than a pack of cigarettes.

“This thing has got 160 channels and it cost $34 to buy it,” Klino said. “If it fails, you throw it in the wastebasket. If you buy something in the United States that is comparable to this, it’s going to cost you about 350 bucks. The Chinese are way ahead in design than they are in the United States, and price-wise too.”

Klino has a workbench where he is working on and checking out radios to make sure they work. Some will be given to club members.

Klino said WARA has been working with students at Hunt High School for the last two school years to build interest in amateur radio.

“They have four kids in the school that have gotten their licenses. The club has given them handheld radios to use. Next year they expect to have 25 kids in the class,” Klino said.

“I don’t regret one moment getting into radio,” Klino said. “That will be my hobby until I croak.”

WARA meets at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of every month at Golden Corral on Raleigh Parkway in Wilson. Due to the Fourth of July holiday, the group will be meeting on the second Monday, which is July 10.

For more information about the club, call Klino at 252-237-3822.

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 265-7818