Ham radio operators host a field day

Andrew Kirschenbeum of West Hempstead gives a free Andrew Kirschenbeum of West Hempstead gives a free radio tune up during a LIMARC Ham Fair at Briarcliffe College in Bethpage, NY. (June 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Albert J. Orlando

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Unlike other teens, Michelle Antonucci, 19, of Seaford, doesn't text or tweet on a cellphone. But sit the college student in front of a vintage ham radio and she turns into a regular great communicator, using it to contact fellow operators around the world.

"I see it as a way to have fun," says Antonucci, who was introduced to ham radios three years ago by her dad, Michael, 51.

They will be among dozens of hobbyists operating radios and educating the public this weekend at a 24-hour event for amateur radio enthusiasts and newbies.

 

ABOUT THE RADIOS

Sure, ham radios may seem like quaint, hopelessly dated technology, compared to the latest app-loaded cellphones and tablets. But what about when a hurricane, flood or other natural or man-made disaster hits Long Island, knocking out cellphones, land lines and the Internet? Then, it's ham radios -- and their operators -- to the rescue.

During such crises, ham radio operators assist the government and the Red Cross in providing crucial (and sometimes the only) means of communicating from and to the affected area, says Rich Cetron, 68, president of the Long Island Mobile Amateur Radio Club, which has 381 members ranging in age from 12 to over 80. Cetron says that since 9/11 and the record-breaking power blackout of 2003, "there's an increase of people who have expressed interest in ham radio."

Nowadays there are several thousand Federal Communications Commission-licensed amateur operators on Long Island whose "batteries are always charged," he says.

During last year's destructive visit by Tropical Storm Irene, for instance, the Antonuccis lost power in their home for six days. "It was like the Stone Age," Michael recalls, with downed power lines making auto travel dangerous. Instead, they stayed in touch with others via the airwaves at their home amateur radio station that's powered by car batteries.

 

WHAT YOU'LL SEE

Field day is a dry run for an actual disaster. The setup will resemble an Army camp with 10-foot-square tents, generators and four radio towers rising 30 to 36 feet.

Club members will start setting up equipment Saturday morning and go on the air at 2 p.m. They plan to stay on-air all Saturday night for insomniacs interested in learning about their hobby -- and sitting down for an old-fashioned wireless chat. They'll sign off at 2p.m. Sunday.

One of the Island's most avid ham radio operators -- and one of the youngest -- will be broadcasting from a tent. James Duquette, 12, a Port Washington sixth-grader, got hooked last summer while studying Morse code, which is still used by fellow hobbyists. James passed the examination for a "general" license from the FCC, which authorizes use of all 27 amateur bands, including international ones.

"It's kind of fun to talk to people around the world," says James, who's made radio contact as far away as Ireland.

In addition to long-distance calls, the fun stuff includes amateur TV broadcasts, bouncing signals off passing satellites and contests between operators. They want to educate the public about a hobby that's not as far removed from modern technology as some might assume.

"People say amateur radio is a thing of the past, but it's really not," Cetron says. "Most of the equipment used in mobile phones was developed by amateur radio operators."

 

LI Mobile Amateur Radio Club Field Day

WHEN | WHERE 2 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday, Rosemary Kennedy BOCES Center, 2850 N. Jerusalem Rd. (via Oakfield Avenue), Wantagh

INFO Free, 516-694-4937, limarc.org

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