Radio amateurs share the thrill of on-air communication

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Sonny Packard of Mapleton listened intently as friend and fellow HAM radio operator Tammy Deschene of Près Isle made contact with another operator in Long Island, New York, on the afternoon of Saturday, June 23.

Almost Isle, Maine – Sonny Packard of Mapleton listened intently as friend and fellow HAM radio operator Tammy Deschene of Près Isle made contact with another operator in Long Island, New York on the afternoon of Saturday, June 23.

“KIFS, Foxtrot, Sierra,” Deschene said aloud into the portable two-way radio, pointing to the Aroostook Amateur Radio Association call sign.

Tammy Deschene (left), of Près Isle, scans for HAM radio signals during the annual National Amateur Radio Day held at the northern Maine fairgrounds last Saturday and Sunday, while fellow radio operator Sonny Packard, from Mapleton, is watching. Both Deschene and Packard are members of the Aroostook Amateur Radio Association and are two of hundreds of amateur radio operators in Aroostook County. (Melissa Lizotte | Star-Herald)

The AARA spent 24 hours—from 2 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday—participating in National Amateur Radio Day at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds in Près Isle. The entrants, who are all members and operators of the club, kept detailed records of who they contacted and when in an attempt to win the competition for most radio contacts.

There was no cash prize, but the real reward for members like Packard is being able to connect with other radio enthusiasts across the country and around the world.

“I’ve talked to people in just about every country,” Packard said, while taking a break from the radio control center. He has been a member of the AARA since the club’s inception in 1976, but has been involved in amateur radio for much longer.

“Sixty years ago I had a friend who was a HAM operator, and he got me involved in all of this,” he said.

Individuals who become licensed radio operators also commit to serving communities through Aroostook’s Radio Emergency Services and Amateur Radio Emergency Services, a protocol created by the Federal Communications Commission. Currently, 24 operators in Aroostook County are part of the ARES team, which can communicate with police, firefighters, hospitals and emergency medical technicians in the event of a major emergency.

According to local ARES team coordinator and AARA member Roy Woods, amateur radio operators become even more crucial during emergencies in which power lines are knocked down and cell phone use becomes impossible, such as last year’s deadly hurricanes in Puerto Rico.

“We have HAM radio systems in all four hospitals in Aroostook County and in nursing homes. If a big disaster were to happen, we could contact all the hospitals at the same time and figure out how many patients they can treat,” said Woods, of Caribou.

“We can also contact the Eastern Maine Medical Center and arrange for a helicopter or Angel Flights to fly here. Every month, volunteers test HAM systems for emergency rooms,” he added.

Woods has been a member of the AARA for six years, but many of its 53 members have been with the club since its inception. Between the AARA and the St. John Valley Amateur Radio Association, hundreds of HAMs operate in Aroostook County, many of whom have radio systems installed in their homes to communicate with their long-distance friends.

On Saturday’s field day, operators set up radio equipment at several locations on the fairgrounds, including in trailers and under canopy tents. AARA President and ARES member Ivan Shapiro set up his battery-operated radio on an old wood table, with a large portable antenna nearby. He explained that HAM radios have several bands that start at 10 meters in frequency and go up to 80 meters.

“Right now I can hear someone 40 yards away, but they can’t hear me,” he said, after unsuccessfully trying to speak to radio operators in Pennsylvania and New York. He went on to explain that traders on the field day would have varying luck in their signals depending on their location.

Shapiro, who lives in Fort Fairfield, is a retired cardiovascular surgeon who has been an AARA member for nine years and president for about seven years. He first became interested in amateur radio as a teenager, but did not become a licensed operator until after his retirement. At home, he now has an 85-foot tower and antenna, power supplies, radios and computers.

He can even connect his radio to a computer and use software called EchoLink to communicate via streaming audio technology, all without the aid of a modern cell phone. He calls the service “Sms radio HAM”.

“It’s a wonderful hobby and community service and I regret not getting a license when I was younger,” Shapiro said. “I made friends with people in Asia, Europe, Africa, New Zealand and Australia. I love giving out my call sign and hearing someone say, “Hello, Ivan.” I haven’t spoken to you in three months. How are you?'”

AARA members meet the first Thursday of each month at 6:00 p.m. at the Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library in Près Isle and those interested in learning more about amateur radio licensing can contact Shapiro at wk1w@ivanshapiro.com.


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