Wrangling radio waves for marathon

Amateur radio association members take over communication

Becoming a "Ham" or amateur radio operator takes perseverance, skill, lots of study and a unique desire to communicate with sound.

"I should add curiosity to the list," amateur radio operator Stuart Nadler said.

Nadler, Chris Craft and JD Smith are three of the more than 60 members of the Northwest Colorado Amateur Radio Association within the three-county region of Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco.

On Sunday, the Hams of the region showed off their talents by orchestrating the communications operations for the Steamboat Marathon.

Some biked along the course, and others rode in vehicles as the primary means of communication along the race. They also ordered supplies for the aid stations and helped race officials by spotting lead runners and reporting them to the finish line.

"(The marathon) is something our association, along with the Hayden Cog Run, has done for a few years," Nadler said, "And we're very happy about that."

Nadler said "ham" operators came into existence for the purpose of assisting with communications in disaster situations, but events such as marathons also fit into the kinds of services amateur radio operators can offer to the public.

"In natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes, we're the only source of communication some people have to reach their friends and family," he said.

Nadler cited the hurricanes last year in Florida as well as the Sept. 11, 2001, attack of the World Trade Center as recent examples of how ham radio operators are a necessary and integral part of communications in America.

"In all of those cases, Ham radio operators served as the only link of communications between what was happening and to those on the outside wanting to know what was going on," he said. "Mostly we're in search for news from loved ones."

Locally Nadler said he helps the Red Cross and other rescue workers with communications. He pointed out the Hams historical importance, especially during World War II, the Korean conflict and Vietnam, as well as their importance in world communications today.

"There are places here, in the U.S., and all over the world, that the only contact people have with the outside world is through Ham radios," Nadler said. "It wasn't that many years ago when Northwest Colorado was one of those places."

Nadler has been experimenting with radios for more than 40 years and has been a licensed operator since 1978.

"My wife actually convinced me to go on (for my license)," he said "I think she was really just tired of hearing me talk about it and said, 'just go take the test.'"

Ham radio operators are regulated and licensed by the Federal Communication Commission. To be registered, one must pass a written test administered by the FCC. Each person who passes the test receives a license and call letter similar to commercial radio stations.

"It used to be everyone west of the Mississippi started with a W and east was a K, but the call letters are for life, and people moved around, so now you can't tell where anyone is from, just where they started," Nadler said.

There are several different levels of operators, each having different criteria. All classes include not just learning Morse code, but being able to decipher a certain number of words in a specific amount of time.

Nadler said the licensing requirements changed a few years ago. When he became licensed, he had to be able to decode 15 words within five minutes.

"Now what they (the FCC) require for the novice class is five words in one minute," he said.

Chris Craft said he was most fascinated with the technical aspects of how radio waves work and that the more he learns about how it works, the more he wants to know.

"It is like any hobby ---- you can spend as much time and money as you want," Craft said.

He said it could be quite expensive if one bought the biggest and best but that it is a good hobby for anyone because there are no age requirements. It is good for a family activity or for single people.

"You just need to read well enough to pass the test," he said.

Aside from a license, Craft and Nadler said there were four basic equipment needs for those interested; a receiver, a transmitter, a power source and an antenna.

"There are several Internet information sources, several magazines and hundreds of books filled with information for those wanting to know more," Craft said.

Smith said there are fewer people in the region talking on the radio in the past few years.

"I always spent a lot of time listening, and I miss hearing the activity, but people are just busier," he said. "I've met a lot of interesting people from all over the world on the radio."

Smith recently returned from the Wyoming Amateur Radio Association Convention.

"I enjoy going to conventions because you come home so excited," he said. "You always learn so much and get to see old radio buddies."

He said the Steamboat Marathon and the Cog Run in Hayden were great experiences.

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