The radio. It began in 1896. A guy named Marconi was experimenting with an idea of wireless telegraphs after becoming aware of the work of Hertz in electromagnetic waves, also known as radio waves. He was 20. That's a pretty good age to get things going and a pretty awesome display of knowledge seeing that at the age of 20 my understanding of radio was something I could do since I was unable to figure out how to play a guitar...a piano....a saxophone....anything really. I had figured out how to play records and I figured I had best make the most of that. So, I got started in "radio". Well, one form of it anyway. Along the way, the understanding of how much more valuable radio was besides just playing records grew as did my understanding of the rich history and the incredible impact radio can have for community, business and matters of community engagement. From the days of "War of the Worlds" to the heyday of the radio stations and personalities that entire regions swore allegiance to, radio has fascinated me in ever way possible.
I will set my personal opinions aside about commercial radio aside today, because we're celebrating 80 years of a form of radio here in Muskegon that many not be aware of, or at bare minimum have forgotten about and that's HAM radio. The Muskegon Area Amateur Radio Council is an active and vital part of our community yet today and the frequencies they operate while not heard by many are actually FCC licensed and protected as a layer of communication that is considered by some to be "ancient" but when the biggest of the big problems happen, HAM radio operators are actually the most secure and dependable way to communicate to the world still. Let me give you a case in point. In 2001 when the World Trade Center came down, it left modern communications in an unimagined predicament. On tope of the towers were radio antennas, cell towers, satellite dishes and more. Emergency frequencies were over loaded and those that did sustain were pushed to the max. Some traditional TV and radio stations were knocked off the air and in a world where we rely on instant everything with communications, it was the HAM radio operators who were able to provide the support and bandwidth for places like the Red Cross. Some HAM operators were working 12 hour shifts and the first 30 of 40 hours of work were so intense for most operators they were called the "iron man act". The guys who sit tinkering in the basement or garage looking for "the skip" to hear someone from across the world put the rubber on the road and filled a desperate need.
Today, thankfully it's been a while since such a desperate need has arisen. But, there are hundreds of those who still enjoy the art and the ability to work in their circles to keep this form of communication alive. In Muskegon, out group is very healthy. In their celebration of the 80th anniversary of their club located on Scenic drive they are welcoming friends from near and far to actually connect and see each other in person. There's some fun involved of course. There is plenty of food, comradery and stories to be told and like any radio "geeks" they can swap stories about equipment, reach and things they have heard. The Muskegon Area Amateur Radio Council is also active in other ways around town. They will man the "Operation Care" weekends at area rest stops and provide coffee and snacks to weary travelers. They also offer the test it requires to become licensed to operate a HAM radio, yes, it's a federally licensed endeavor, because of the role they play. They have regular meetings of the club, they have field event and they share a treasure among them that if ever needed, they are ready to go at a moments notice.
The club invited me out to see their club house and all the cool gadgets. We swapped a few stories and then we sat down to let some of the members tell you a little more about their work. Meet Brad King, Al Pepping, and Tom Porritt of the club and hear a little more directly from them.
It was an AWESOME visit. We shared mutual admiration for our forms of communication and dual curiosity on who the digital world works as well as some of the amazing technology they have at the club from as far back as the 40's that is still immaculate and fully operational to continue to work. It's a true testament to how so often we see what's so new and shiny and think that what was is done. The reality is that simplicity can be the deciding factor at times and what is assumed to be a shadow of a memory, can be instantly activated for the greater good by operators that make no money for what they do. A hobby can become a necessary form of communication in an instant and to know that for 80 years in Muskegon we've been covered by this incredible group of dedicated volunteers, yet again speaks volumes of our community taking care of it's own from every angle. And yes, to answer your final question, I came home immediately and started pricing a HAM radio myself. No, you can never get away from it. You can visit their website by clicking below.