At the Newton Hy-Vee Starbucks, three members of the Newton Amateur Radio Association — John Orjias, Chuck Wagoner and John Nelson — talked over breakfast food and coffee.
Nelson, the club’s vice president, first became interested in amateur HAM radio through reading a copy of CQ Magazine at a store when he was in sixth grade. His father tried to deter him from the hobby, saying it was too advanced for him, but Nelson proved him wrong.
He went to a licensing exam which was hosted by the Newton Amateur Radio Association. He said he was familiar with electronics, due to his dad and uncle owning an electronics store and being knowledgeable about technology.
“Also, my dad and my uncle had engineering degrees, so at home I had a bunch of double-ee (electrical engineering) books to look at,” Nelson said.
The Association is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year as an active group in Newton. A HAM or amateur radio uses radio frequency spectrum for purposes of non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, private recreation, radiosport, contesting and emergency communication. It can be used to communicate with people over long distances, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of miles.
Wagoner, the Association’s emergency liaison, said it was his role as a Boy Scout leader that introduced him to HAM radios. He decided to take his test in 2002 and Wagoner has been working with them ever since.
Orjas said every electronic imaginable is now in an appliance in some way or form, and there is no innovation anymore. He said he got involved with computers 30 years ago and called it romantic.
“There is something really awesome about knowing the radio waves that left your house are the same radio waves that are hitting some guy 900 miles away,” Orjas said.
The group members serve as a storm spotters for Jasper County, acting with local law enforcement to find any damage which might have occurred during a storm and what emergency services may be needed.
“I also relay that to the National Weather Service in Des Moines so they know what is going on and they can get it out over the media, radio and television,” Wagoner said. “One time, when we were doing that, it took 15 seconds to get my report out over the television.”
Orjas said he enjoys being with the HAM radio group because he likes how there is always something to be learned even by the people who have worked with HAM radios for years. Nelson said he liked the diversity of the group he was in, where people from all walks of life get together and share in a common hobby which they all enjoy.
The group puts on an event every year called Field Day, where they set up their radios outside and mark down how many people they talk to from all over the world.
“It is to practice the ability to set up an emergency communications system and in the last 10 years or so we have come in either first or second in all of Iowa,” Wagoner said.
Orjas said HAM radios give him a feeling of nostalgia, and he said there is an allure for more technologically inclined people.
For those interested in the Newton Amateur Radio Association, visit their website at www.w0wml.org and go to the contact link.
Contact Samuel Nusbaum at 641-792-3121 ext. 6533 or at firstname.lastname@example.org