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Ham radio goes high-tech

June 29, 1998|By DON AINES

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

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Ham radioHam radio goes high-tech

FORT LOUDON, Pa. -- "Are you decent?" Carl Morris of Chambersburg asked Joe Lockbaum.

"I'm not shaved," Lockbaum replied. Even though the Mercersburg man was 10 miles away, his face was on a TV monitor sitting on a card table inside an army surplus tent.

Lockbaum, president of the Valley Amateur Television Society, was transmitting from his pickup truck to show how club members can communicate.

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A few feet away, Becky Curry and Reggie and Nikki Gossert sat wearing headsets at a table loaded with transceivers.

"Whiskey-Three-Alpha-Charlie-Hotel," Becky, 14, repeated into her headset. That's the call sign of the Cumberland Valley Amateur Radio Club of Chambersburg, W3ACH.

At the other end of the tent, club President Greg Harbaugh of Chambersburg used a radio linked to a laptop computer and a global positioning system device to track a mobile unit near Philadelphia.

They were all participating in the Amateur Radio Relay League's annual Field Day. On Sunday ham radio operators wrapped up efforts to contact other operators across North America.

The league estimates 35,000 operators take part in the competition. Harbaugh said 14 operators had been at the club's base station.

The view from Tuscarora Summit, 2,123 feet above sea level, is spectacular on a clear day, but the camp was shrouded in clouds and a fine mist. Outside the olive drab tent, six antennas were set up and two portable generators puttered away in the distance.

"I'd say we've contacted all the states in the union and several of the provinces in Canada," Harbaugh said.

"At this point we've got between 300 and 400 contacts," said Reg Gossert, of Fayetteville, Nikki and Reggie's father.

Becky, Harbaugh's daughter, made nearly 150 contacts Saturday and Sunday. She logged call signs from New York, Michigan, Florida, Ontario, Quebec and elsewhere.

"A lot of people say it's because I'm a girl. They hear a girl's voice and they jump right in," Becky said.

While fun for the operators, Field Day is meant to sharpen skills amateur radio operators put to practical use when hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural or manmade disasters interrupt normal communications.

For example, an amateur television unit on a vehicle or aircraft can transmit images from a disaster scene to an emergency operations center. Linked to a GPS unit, an operator can pinpoint the site of an emergency, Harbaugh said.

When telephone and power lines are down, ham operators can relay information to emergency management officials. Since it was formed in the early 1950s, Gossert said the club has performed this role during Tropical Storm Agnes, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and many other emergencies.

During threatening weather, Harbaugh said ham operators activate their Sky Warn system. "We're the eyes and the ears of the National Weather Service," he said.

Harbaugh, whose club meets the third Thursday of each month in the basement of the Franklin County Courthouse, said the clubs provide the country with a pool of trained radio operators in case of a national emergency.

Japan, Great Britain - and during the Gulf War - Saudi Arabia and Israel, are among the countries Gossert has contacted. Harbaugh said he has contacted U.S. astronauts on the Russian space station Mir.

"They just want to know what's going on in the United States... What's the baseball scores," Harbaugh said of the astronauts.

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