MARC was featured in the Montrose Daily Press on December 29th, 2013. By permission from the author and the Montrose Daily Press, here is the article:
KØIIT ― A club for fun and service
‘Hams’ provide essential communication through enjoyable hobby
Operators reach worldwide
By Drew Setterholm
Daily Press Staff Writer
It’s a relatively small part of the population that has the know-how, the technology and the interest to tap into amateur radio networks, otherwise known as “ham radio.” For those who do, there is a familiar call sign on the air ― dit-dit, dit-dit, dee. That would be the sound of “IIT” the regionally recognized designation for KØIIT, Montrose Amateur Radio Club.
MARC is a member of the American Radio Relay League and the Colorado Council of Amateur Radio Clubs. Its membership has seen as many as 70 call signs, currently around 60 or 65, who participate in club meetings and year-round activities. For many of those members, the group is a place to share a common interest. There are times, though, when ham radio is called on for serious situations.
Ham radio operators must be licensed, to ensure users of the radio frequency spectra understand the government regulations and key electronic components of their equipment. Ham radio is used solely for personal interest and is separated from commercial, public safety or professional broadcasting, but communication between “hams” can cross the globe.
One of MARC’s annual club activities is participating in the American Radio Relay League Field Day.
“We go to a site that has nothing, we erect antennas, put generators, put all our stuff together and see how many contacts we can make around the world,” explained Ken Herrick, MARC vice president.
With more than 35,000 hams on the air for Field Day, establishing contacts from a remote location is a fun exercise for radio operators. It is also a very basic practice of one of amateur radio’s most practical applications.
“The fun things we do, like field day in June, are also training for how we can operate and perform during an emergency or non-standard conditions,” Chris DePuy, MARC treasurer, said.
Some members of MARC undergo additional training and registration to become members of the Amateur Radio Emergency service or the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service. In the case of an emergency, members of these subsets would be called upon to establish a communication link between the Montrose Emergency Operations Center and the State of Colorado Emergency Operations Center.
Situations such as the recent flooding, wildfires or extreme weather conditions have warranted ham radio contact to supplement other forms of communication.
The beauty of ham radio, for many who pursue it as a hobby, is that the simple setup and operation of a ham precludes any large-scale infrastructure.
“Every ‘ham’ prides himself on being able to operate his radio anytime, anywhere he’s called on to do that,” Lew French, MARC activities director, said. “When the power’s out and the cell phone system is destroyed, given a 12-volt battery and the right length of wire for an antenna, you can put your radio up. … If all the regular forms of communication go down, that link still exists.”
The “hams” around the Montrose area also offer their services for non-emergency uses. Some are trained weather spotters who can communicate with the National Weather Service station located on the Grand Mesa; when a weather pattern or conditions can’t be confirmed electronically, a weather spotter on the ground can provide valuable field data.
MARC has also become associated with another service, setting up communications for ultra-marathon runners in rugged mountain conditions. The Hardrock 100, which begins and ends in Silverton, requires the assistance of hams to link communication between its aid stations and track runners.
“The organizers can’t do it if they don’t have communication between the little aid stations that are poked around in the mountains, and the cell phones don’t work … and you can’t talk with anything but ham radio,” Royce Seymour, MARC Field Day chairman, said.
Providing all of these services are just a part of what “hams” and the members of MARC provide. At its heart, the club is based on a shared interest in the mechanics of building radios and establishing communication with other operators. Founded in 1955, MARC hosts a monthly in-person meeting in Olathe and a weekly meeting on the air.
Through Field Day and other informal communications, MARC members have established contact with amateur operators on both coasts of the U.S., in Canada, on other continents and even with space through satellites and the international space station.
One of Seymour’s most memorable contacts was with an operator at the U.S. embassy in Mali, a central African country.
“I was talking to him like we were talking across a desk,” Seymour recalled.
International communications rely on Morse Code, a radio lingo of dots and dashes representing letters.
“We can exchange names and location and some weather information and all that stuff, and have a basic conversation using internationally recognized Morse Code signals. … That’s enough to have enjoyable conversation across the world,” DePuy said.
Whether they’re chatting with contacts just a few miles apart, sending signals across the continent or even reaching out across the globe, “hams” are enjoying a hobby that has a rich history and continues to have many practical applications.
“We’ve thrived pretty well for all these 50-plus years,” DePuy said.