Operators HAM It Up

ST. MARYS — A group of amateur radio operators from Auglaize and Mercer counties converged on Grand Lake St. Marys Saturday to take part in a contest that had them contacting people from as far away as China and Russia.

The Reservoir Amateur Radio Association once again took part in the Ohio State Parks On the Air program — a contest that pitted clubs from across Ohio. The event was sponsored by the Portage County Amateur Radio Service. Each club was tasked with contacting as many of the 75 state parks as possible during the eight-hour window.

Rick Wagaman, of Celina, was among the group working to find contacts during the contest at the club’s headquarters at shelterhouse No. 3. Wagaman, who has been an operator for decades, said the contest is a way for the club to compete while practicing their skills.

“We try to make as many contacts as we can with Ohio state parks,” Wagaman said. “Each one has been given an identifier — our identifier is GLM.”

While the club could contact state parks, they also were able to make contact with other states and countries to earn points. A series of antennas strung around the shelterhouse helped the operators reach out.

“If we happened to talk to Wisconsin or Russia, that’s still a contact for us, that’s a point,” Wagaman said. “Each one of the clubs can run different modes and different classifications. You can run low power or you can run high power.”

The teams of two included an operator and a logger who verified each contact. Wagaman, who served as the logger, said he enjoys being a radio operator because of its freedom.

“It’s a hobby for any age,” Wagaman said. “There’s no age limitation in getting your license. There’s nothing that restricts you from getting into any one classification.”

Each operator must be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Wagaman said once a person passes a test, he or she can become a certified radio operator.

“Amateurs are licensed by the federal government and controlled by the federal government,” Wagaman said. “We are listed in the emergency program in the United States as a back-up for communications. If your satellite fails, your cell phones go down, we can establish contact. I can talk to Columbus right now with no interference, no problem right now. I can talk to Russia right now.”

In July, the group holds an emergency field day event to test its skills in the event of a disaster. Wagaman said the group must set up its equipment in a certain amount of time and establish contact with the outside world.

“It’s a 24-hour event,” Wagaman said. “We’ll make statewide contacts, we’ll make worldwide contacts. The idea is for us to establish communications in case of an emergency.”

Wagaman encouraged those who may be interested in amateur radio to take up the hobby because there is something for everyone.

“The nice thing about being an amateur radio operator is that it has so many facets,” Wagaman said. “It allows anyone to get into any interest part of it. If you like CW (continuous wave), you work CW. If you like the satellites, you can work the satellites. If you want to talk to NASA, then you set it up. If you want to bounce a frequency off the moon, you can do that. If you want to get into digital modes, where you are using computer assists, you can. If you want to operate old, ancient equipment and repair it and keep it functional, that’s part of it.”