Amateur radio enthusiasts are handy in emergencies

Winters resident Joe DeAngelo became curious about radio communications as a child, after hearing people speak in various foreign languages on his grandparents’ console radio system.

“I would listen to the shortwave radio and listen to stations coming in that were speaking in different languages and I would be curious about where were these speakers coming from and why I was able to hear them so far away,” he said.

He made his first forays into amateur radio — also known as ham radio — when he was 14 years old after reading about it in various electronics magazines. Today, DeAngelo is part of a large network of amateur radio enthusiasts in Yolo County who use ham radio for emergency services.

Amateur radio was born during the early 1900s, when people were first commercializing radio as a means to communicate across long distances, DeAngelo said. Although some early amateur radio enthusiasts were scientific professionals, many were simply curious to learn about how radio works.

Equipment like this is used for communications during emergencies and by ham radio hobbyists for conversation with others around the world. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

“Amateur radio was really just people from all walks of life who were interested in the science of it,” he said.

Jay Ballinger, the club coordinator for UC Davis Amateur Radio Communications, said that when amateur radio was first defined by the government, part of the charter was to make different waves of radio available to amateurs so they could communicate using techniques such as Morse code, particularly during emergency situations when phone lines were down.

Emergency services during natural disasters remains one of the major uses of ham radio. During Hurricane Katrina, DeAngelo said many amateur radio operators — or “hams” — were stationed in shelters where they served as the main means of communication because commercial services, such as phones, were not…

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