Ham radio enthusiasts stay strong on the air

Don Drayton displays a vintage jacket after the Hermiston Amateur Radio Club's regular monthly meeting Monday evening at Fire Station 3.

For more than 40 years, waves of conversation have soared through the air over the Columbia Basin, connecting friends who turn dials and read meters.

The Hermiston Amateur Radio Club has seen its members’ faces change over the decades, but in an age of online avatars and cell phone applications, those individuals remain at the front of technological curves.

At the club’s regular monthly meeting Monday, member Jody Cross said interest in acquiring licenses — a necessity for any potential amateur radio operator — has “thinned out” in recent years.

Five or six people a month would seek to take the required test in years past, but only one or two have taken it in 2010, he said.

More than a dozen clubs still exist within 100 miles of Hermiston, however, and the American Radio Relay League lists active radio groups in Pendleton, Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities.

A search on www.qrz.com, a popular amateur radio website, lists 101 operators in the Hermiston zip code alone.

The local club looks to remain strong, with conversation at Monday’s meeting signaling a healthy interest in adding new hams — a term for amateur radio enthusiasts — and possibly offering beginners classes in the near future.

President Jerry Enders said once a person discovers the basics of the hobby, he or she steps into a radio Narnia of sorts.

“All you can do is open that door,” he said. “If they have any interest at all, they’ll take off.”

Members also spoke of their adoption of new innovations in the amateur radio world.

One of the newest inventions, Echolink, allows users to connect their radios to other operators around the world via the Internet.

Hams in 162 countries use the software, which is now available for both the iPhone and Android mobile operating systems.

With members’ average ages sitting well over 40, the Hermiston club might seem to be a surprising group to discuss the latest in cell phone technology, however, more e-mail addresses and talk of YouTube videos resonated through the meeting than does during a high school lunch break.

The Hermiston Amateur Radio Club hosts a website that contains repeater frequencies, tones and other less-jargonistic information.

Club members said anyone is free to join, and start-up costs — including testing fees of less than $20 — can fit most anyone’s budget.

For more information on the club, visit its website at www.kc7kug.org.

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