When Gloversville resident Don Gifford considers why he is involved in training for emergency communications with amateur radio, he pictures the smiling face of a woman he did not know.
While Gifford was working at the Adirondack Spintacular one year practicing emergency communication techniques with other members of the Tryon Amateur Radio Club, the woman asked Gifford if he could help locate her daughter and husband. She was concerned about how they were doing in the hot August weather, he said.
He radioed a description to his fellow "hams." Sure enough, someone had spotted the two and confirmed they were feeling fine. Gifford relayed the information to the woman.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor
Don?Gifford of Gloversville, president of the Tryon?Amateur Radio?Club, points to a repeater in his car Wednesday in Gloversville. The repeater extends the
communication range of his radio.
"The look on her face," he said. "That is why we do what we do."
Amateur radio is as old as the history of radio, according to the American Radio Relay League, the national association for amateur radio, website - www.arrl.org.
"In 1912, Congress passed the first laws regulating radio transmissions in the U.S. By 1914, amateur experimenters were communicating nation-wide, and setting up a system to relay messages from coast to coast," the website said.
According to the website, the tradition of calling amateur radio operator "hams" may come from terminology used during the telegraph era. A "ham" in the telegraph era was said to refer to a bad, or amateurish, telegraph operator, the website said. As telegraph operators moved into wireless operations and had to deal with more amateurs, the website said, the nickname eventually got applied to all amateur operators.
There are many reasons why people get involved in amateur radio, according to the website.
"Some hams are attracted by the ability to communicate across the country, around the globe, or even with astronauts on space missions. Others may like to build and experiment with electronics. Computer hobbyists enjoy using Amateur Radio's digital communications opportunities," the website said. "Those with a competitive streak enjoy 'DX contests,' where the object is to see how many hams in distant locations they can contact. Some like the convenience of a technology that gives them portable communication."
Since its beginning, some people also have gotten into amateur radio because of public service. As the website noted, the Federal Communications Commission requires people to get a license to do amateur radio in part because it is technically the "Amateur Radio Service."
"The FCC created the 'Service' to fill the need for a pool of experts who could provide backup emergency communications in times of need. In addition, the FCC acknowledged the ability of the hobby to advance communication and technical knowledge, and enhance international goodwill," the website said.
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Gifford said the Tryon ARC, which was formed in 1973, is a more public-service oriented club than others.
Gifford, who was elected president of the club last year, said other clubs may focus more on DX contests or using morse code, among other possibilities. Gifford said ultimately, what the club focuses on is up to the members.
"[The club] seems to be focused on public service and emergency communications," he said.
Gifford said no "hams" are forced to take part in training for emergency communications if they don't want to.
"It is also about people helping each other with all aspects of the hobby," he said.
Some club members recently provided safety communications for the Gloversville Enlarged School District Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation 5k run. Some of the club's 25 members basically waited at certain points along the race course, and radioed back information about where the contestants were.
Tom Komp, principal at Boulevard?Elementary?School in Gloversville and the race director, said having the club members there gave him a more secure feeling.
"They are really there for safety," he said.
Carol Madeiros, who started the Adirondack Spintacular in memory of her husband, Lawrence Madeiros, said the volunteers from the club provide help by keeping her informed about where the runners are and provide another measure of safety by keeping a watchful eye on the course.
"They are good at their job," she said. "They will give me information before I even have to ask for it."
Gifford said the events let the club practice its emergency communications procedures.
"It may not be life-saving, but the procedure is," he said. "If we are called to help during [an emergency] the procedure is the same."
Members of the club may be called upon to provide communications between agencies in events like floods or power outages, he said.
One way that could happen is if Fulton County Fire Coordinator Director Allan Polmateer activates the group's Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, Gifford said. Members of the group could then provide communications for various agencies in the county, such as fire departments and ambulance services.
Gifford said the club does RACES training. However, he said, it is only for members who want to participate in it.
The club is in the process of setting up its RACES station at the Fulton County Emergency Operations Center, located at the Fulton County Sheriff's Office complex on Route 29.
Gifford said the advantage "ham" radio enthusiasts can offer agencies needing emergency communications is that they are very self contained.
For example, he said, if the power goes out for an extended period of time, cell phones will be dead. Landline phones will be dead. However, amateur radio users will be able to keep their network up and running quicker and for a much longer period of time.
"If you lose power for a great deal of time, you'll see the value," Gifford said.
Gifford said anyone interested in getting involved in amateur radio will find a warm reception at the club.
"People are interested in helping others," he said. "There are even newbie nets, where people new to radio can go and ask basic questions and get help."
Gifford said getting a license from the FCC involves passing an exam and paying a $14 fee. As far as equipment is concerned, he said, many people could start off with a handheld radio, which costs about $120 new.
Of course, he said, there is a lot people can do with a handheld radio, such as the one he has.
"I can talk to people in Vermont," he said, holding up his handheld radio.
For more information about the Tryon Amateur Radio Club, visit its website at k2jji.org/