Local enthusiasts say amateur radio still has role in digital age
Is amateur radio a dying hobby?
The golden days of radio are long gone. That doesn’t mean it’s insignificant, however.
Even in the rapidly advancing world of technology, radio remains a valuable means of communication.
“If the phone lines or Internet go down, radio is still there,” said Art Protas, a member of the Yavapai Amateur Radio Club (YARC).
On Saturday, June 24, YARC hosted its annual Amateur Radio Field Day, where the public was invited to see radio operators in action, ask questions and get on the air with help from a licensed control operator.
The club remains the largest of its kind in Arizona with about 280 members, but is always looking to recruit more.
“Our goal is to get brand new people into the hobby,” said Brian Vlastelich, a YARC member and lead instructor for amateur radio classes. “If the hobby doesn’t grow, then the FCC will take away our privileges.”
When radio bands go dormant for an extended period of time, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) takes them off the airwaves, Vlastelich said.
“It’s kind of use or lose,” Vlastelich said.
This has dwindled the number of bands hobbyists such as himself can tap into.
“It is limited,” Vlastelich said.
While amateur radio (also known as ham radio) is a hobby at heart, it can also play a role in community service.
One way YARC helps out in this regard is by stationing its members throughout major area events such as the Whiskey Row Marathon and Man vs. Horse. The members voluntarily track the racers and report back to a central control station with updates on who has made it through and whether anyone is missing or injured.
The club also provides tactical communications for the Yavapai County Office of Emergency Management when needed.
To become an amateur radio operator, anyone of any age must simply pass a test and acquire a license and call sign from the FCC.
Twelve-year-old Jackson Fuller officially got his amateur radio license about a year ago. He’s the only youth he currently knows practicing this old-school pastime.
“I see mostly seniors using it,” Fuller said. “I kind of like it that it’s a unique thing for my age.”
Attempts to lure his schoolmates into trying it have failed miserably, he said.
“Believe me, I’ve tried,” Fuller said. “They rather play videogames or sports.”
He finds this unfortunate, for he has developed a sincere interest in the hobby.
“I don’t want it to die,” Fuller said.
According to the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), Fuller’s fears don’t look to be coming true anytime soon.
“At the end of 2014, the total number of radio amateurs in the FCC’s Universal Licensing System database reached an all-time high of 726,275,” NAAR states on its website.
Some of the more active amateur radio operators do what is called DXing, a hobby of receiving and identifying distant radio or television signals.
For many DXers, the primary goal is to make contact with signals in as many different countries as possible.
Vlastelich, for instance, has been DXing for about a year and has made contact with 40 countries outside the United States.
“Three weeks ago, I contacted St. Pertersburg, Russia,” Vlastelich said.
Jim Zimmerman is a local legend when it comes to DXing. In his 47 years of being a licensed amateur radio, he has made contact with all 339 recognized DXing entities in the world.
“I’ve actually worked 348, because several of the countries have been deleted,” Zimmerman said. “For example, there were countries like Germany that were East and West Germany, now it’s just Germany.”
“It’s a huge achievement in the ham culture,” said Fuller, who just so happens to be Zimmerman’s grandson.