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Local ham radio fans gather at NFM Community Park

June 28, 2013
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

They set up their antennas around dawn on Saturday and set up shop in the sheltered environs of the Community Park concession stand.

From 2 p.m. Saturday, and for the next 24 hours, about a dozen or so ham radio operators made contact with as many fellow ham enthusiasts as they could, from every corner of the U.S. and Canada, with the sound of Morse code filling the air as background music.

It was the American Radio Relay League's annual field day, where radio operators from North America get together to test their abilities with only emergency power in the field.

Article Photos

chuck ballaro

Tim Bennett at work at his ham radio at the American Radio Relay League field day at North Fort Myers Community Park Sunday. Bennett and his crew were trying to contact as many people as possible within 24 hours.

It wasn't exactly for fun, either. Ham radio plays a crucial role in most emergency planning scenarios to get information out in the event of a natural disaster like Hurricane Charley or when the entire electrical grid fails, as it did on the east coast in 2003.

Larry Zimmer, director of the Fort Myers Amateur Radio Club, said all you really need is an antenna and a portable generator and you're all set.

"Ham radio doesn't require infrastructure. You stick up an antenna and you're there. We had two generators run power, and we had one run on solar Saturday," Zimmer said.

The premise behind the exercise was to contact as many stations as possible in 24 hours, which the group did in shifts throughout the day and night, stopping only to eat or for a little nap late at night, Zimmer said.

Zimmer contacted about 180 throughout North America. As of 1 p.m., they had contacted someone in every state but the Dakotas and in every Canadian province except Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta.

"We have a sophisticated communications system, but if a couple towers go down or things get overbaked, you have nothing," Zimmer said.

As far as the notion that its people sitting in the attic with an old receiver that whirrs and tweets, that's wrong. Ham radio is as computerized as most everything is today, which allows these operators to contact more people than ever before.

And according to Jeff Beals, section manager of South Florida, there are more than 700,000 licensed ham operators, more than at any time in history.

"We're the first and last responders. We're always training in amateur radio," Beals said.

And the best part is that the radios can be set up quickly, which in an emergency such as Charley, Katrina or even the Sept. 11 attacks proved crucial, since it was the only communication people had.

Thus the ham operator's motto "When all else fails."

And if all fails with their ability to make vocal contact, they can retreat to the oldest electronic communication method: Morse code, complete with the old style ticker.

John Sholtis and Norma Remson operated a sophisticated ham radio, the same way they have for eight years.

"I've always been interested in electronics having retired from IBM. It's a service to the community," Sholtis said.

Tim Bennett, 26, was the youngster in the group. He said it's great to be able to contact people from all over.

"This is the primary means when all else goes down. It's emergency communication when disaster hits," Bennett said. "It's cool to send a signal out and have it come back. It's a hoot."

The Fort Myers Amateur Radio Club has about 150 members.

For more information, contact them at



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