Reprinted by permission. Copyright © 2017, Telluride Daily Planet.
By JUSTIN CRIADO, Senior Staff Writer
When the zombie apocalypse hits, what will you do?
Will you scramble to arm yourself, or collect supplies and hunker down in a remote location? What about finding other survivors? How will you reach them? A common characteristic of zombie invasions is the destruction and total failure of communication systems: cell phones, land lines, Wi-Fi, everything.
That’s where the Montrose Amateur Radio Club comes in. In case of any emergency (undead or otherwise), the club is capable of operating outside the power grid, making it the only plausible communication system this side of messenger pigeons.
“That certainly is true. Here in Montrose County we cooperate with the Montrose County Emergency Management,” club member Lew French said. “We are prepared to communicate on behalf of the the county with the state’s emergency operations center if the normal lines of communication go down.”
Amateur radio operators, or hams as they’re referred to, can connect with people from all over the world using the shortwave system.
“It’s a way to communicate through the air without using any infrastructure,” French said. “You can operate your radios off of 12 volt batteries.”
French became interested in ham radios during his high school days in the 1960s, when he listened to stations in Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain.
“Every country had a shortwave radio station,” he said.
Later, as a member of the Army Signal Corps, French used his ham radio skills as a radar repairman. It wasn’t until he retired from the Forest Service 14 years ago that he got his ham license and joined the Montrose club. The club, founded in 1956, currently has around 60 members.
“Hams pride themselves on being very self-sufficient,” he said. “When I’m out and about, I have a ham radio in my truck. There are places where cell phones do not work, but ham radios certainly will.”
Other than providing emergency support, the club helps out at events like last weekend’s Hardrock 100 Endurance Run. The race’s route is remote (the run wends its way through 100 miles of San Juan Mountains), and the hams help track the runners from various positions between Silverton and Ophir. (They do the same for contestants in the Imogene Pass Run.)
French said it is relatively easy to obtain a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license. A beginner’s license involves a 35-question test and nominal fee. There are two more levels of licensing, which, if obtained, allow operators to transmit on additional frequencies. The Montrose club provides study guides and administers the tests.
Currently, there are over 727,000 ham radio licenses in the FCC’s Universal Licensing System database, an “all-time high” in the United States, according to the latest American Radio Relay Association (ARRL) information.
“For the first time in the ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator Department (VEC) program’s history, we have conducted more than 7,000 amateur radio exam sessions in a year, an important milestone,” ARRL VEC manager Maria Somma said in a press release.
French said that there are 100 license holders in the Montrose area, but not all of them are active.
Although the club has a substantial number of members, he said the toughest demographic to reach is teenagers (the club’s sole teenage member recently moved away).
“It is difficult to have young members, teenage members,” he said. “We would like to do more to get the young people involved.”
There are plans to distribute ham radio materials to area high schools from Ouray to Olathe (French said that Montrose High School used to have a ham radio club).
The Montrose club meets on the third Friday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Olathe Community Center. Current members are mainly from Montrose and Delta counties, but can be from anywhere in the region, French said.
For more information, visit the montrosehamradio.org or call 970-417-6142.