Ham Radio 101


The second floor of the Valley Community Plaza patio is quiet.

But inside, sounds echo against the walls in a pattern that could remind someone of a World War II movie.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Paul Ridley is one of 40 to 50 members of the Valencia County Amateur Radio Association in Rio Communities. He said he enjoys finding frequencies where people happen to be talking.

That sound of dots and dashes was from a transceiver radio belonging to one of the members of the Valencia County Amateur Radio Association, who was listening to Morse code.

Ham Pat Libertell hit the Morse key dozens of times as he listened to a frequency that was coming from Dallas. The transceiver sends and receives messages from all over the world.

On this day, the small group, made up of retirees, is listening intently to the tones and the pulses that come across the speakers.

Some, they say, can come from other countries, such as Cuba and Russia.

Cliff Pulis, president of the group, said he developed a love for ham radios as a child. He was 12 years old when he first became licensed in the 1950s.

“I think it’s the fun of talking to people around the world,” Pulis said. “You never meet them ― they are from Russia, they are from where ever. They may not all speak English, but if they use Morse code, they will use English.”

Pulis, a retired electrical engineer, said ham radios led to his career.

He said listening to radio waves can be a challenge, since the user might not know how far the waves will travel.

But that’s part of the fun.

One day the radio might receive messages from a neighboring state. The next day the radio can pick up tones from another country. The quality of each frequency depends on how the radio waves bounce off of the ionosphere.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Cliff Pulis, president of the Valencia County Amateur Radio Association, talks through a transceiver radio. The Rio Communities group, which has been around more than 10 years, is looking to increase its membership.

“The ability of someone to hear it somewhere else around the world depends on how well these radio waves are bouncing around somewhere,” Pulis said.

Some members of the VCARA often spend hours waiting for “a real good one,” which means a rare place where few communicate from.

Charles Lyon said he spends time talking to people in areas that might not be reached with a computer via the Internet. Lyon said Mount Athos in Macedonia, Greece, is one place that members might salivate over if they get in contact with someone there.

“It’s interesting,” Lyon said. “There are people just like us all around the world.”

Members, who are licensed through the Federal Communications Commission, use call signs to tell individuals where they are from and some send cards to other members all over the globe.

Pulis stresses the group doesn’t use citizen’s band, or CB, which he says is a misconception among people who aren’t licensed as ham radio operators.

Hams must pass a test administered by a volunteer examiner to be able to have a certain amount of privileges over the air waves. The licenses are ranked and the higher the ranking, the higher the privilege.

The highest privileges allow users to communicate in other countries and overseas.

Pulis said using ham radios allows members to broadcast a message to an area where many people can hear rather than publishing a post on Facebook or Twitter.

He said hams can be used in emergency situations if cell phone reception happens to go down. For example, the radios could act as a police scanner where hams could hear other hams talking about a natural disaster or a fire.

“If there was a fire in Colorado, we could hear what’s going on,” Pulis said.

Another member, Paul Ridley, said he enjoys finding frequencies where people happen to be talking. He said the duration of conversations don’t have to be too long to be productive.

“(The conversations) aren’t that long,” Ridley said. “We chat a little bit. But it’s about making contact with someone in that country.”

Some members listen for a few hours a week and often turn on the radio with a particular country in mind.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Pat Libertell, a member of the Valencia County Amateur Radio Association, operates a Morse key as he talks to someone in Dallas.

“It’s difficult,” Lyon said, “but it’s a lot of fun.”

These days, members must depend on a few dozen radio supply stores to keep their hobby alive. The members have purchased several radios along with a Morse key that allows members to communicate with others.

Pulis calls those shops “candy stores” where members can get their fix to allow them to turn dials to communicate with individuals who happen to be in front of their radio that day.

The group has about 40 to 50 members who pay dues and can be found at the Valley Community Plaza on Saturday mornings.

Pulis said the group is looking for new members who share their passion for operating ham radios. He said there are 730,000 people licensed in the United States.

“We certainly would like to have more people join,” he says.

For more information, you can call Pulis at 369-4958.

-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.