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On the air

Fri 22 July 2016 by Rick Gilmore

I've wanted to be an amateur radio operator since I was a little kid and read about the hobby in Boys' Life magazine. As a high schooler, I scraped together the pennies to buy a shortwave radio receiver, a Yaesu FRG-7, and with a long wire I ran up to the roof of my parents' house, I listened to the world. Catching the English language broadcast of Radio Tirana from Albania was a memorable highlight. Geography was always one of my favorite subjects, but this brought the map to life in a way nothing else really had before. Okay, maybe National Geographic.

I got the bug again when we moved to Pittsburgh in the early 90s for graduate school. After many weeks of practice, I learned enough Morse code and radio theory to schlep Michelle up to Northern PA one Saturday morning where I took and passed my Technician Plus exam. I needed cash to buy a transceiver, so I sold the Yaesu and bought a 2m capable Radio Shack HTX 202. When my license came in the mail, I made a few contacts as N3QLO. Then, grad school got much harder. The kids came. We moved to State College, and I pursued other interests. I even forgot to renew my license when it expired in 2003.

Fast forward to this summer, when I read "Seveneves" at Bill Gates' suggestion. Ham radio plays a prominent role in the book -- one of the main characters stationed on the International Space Station communicates with her family in Alaska via ham radio. The bee got in my bonnet again. I bought study materials and quizzed myself using an iPhone app. When I was ready, I went to a meeting of the Nittany Amateur Radio Club (NARC) and took and passed the Technician test. A few weeks later, Michelle and I went camping at Hills Creek State Park so I could take the General class exam with the Tioga County Radio Club. I passed, and in the meantime, I applied for a change in my callsign to K3ROG. About 10 days ago I got official confirmation from the FCC that I was a new General class amateur radio operator with a vanity callsign reflecting my initials. So, I'd finally fulfilled a childhood dream, but as yet I hadn't really done much besides study the texbook.

This past weekend, I finally got the chance to put that book knowledge into practice. I provided volunteer communications support for the MS Keystone 150, a charity ride from Hollidaysburg to State College and back. Using my new Yaesu FT-60R handy talky, I provided information to the event leaders about the flow of riders through a dangerous road crossing while helping the safety marshals who were directing traffic. It was a great bunch of people to work with, and terrific fun using a new skill to help a great cause.

One lesson learned is that it's never too late to pursue an interest. Next year, I'm hoping to be among the MS 150 riders. I've also been reminded that in entering every new human community, the newcomer has to learn how to talk the talk. My fellow hams have been incredibly welcoming so far, and I'm grateful for their patience and support.


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