MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — In an era of iPhones and Twitter, people such as John Armbruster stand ready with a ham radio and nine antennas, ready to relay emergency communications if other technologies fail.
“That’s an unofficial slogan, when all else fails, amateur radio is still there,” said Armbruster, 52, vice president of the Cape May County Amateur Radio Club.
When he does lose electricity at his Erma, Lower Township, home, Armbruster said his ham radio is second only behind his refrigerator to be hooked up to his generator.
On Saturday and Sunday, the local radio club set up at Cape May County’s 4-H Fair Grounds, with wire antennas placed in the trees as demonstrations of solar-powered radio communications. It was part of a national field day expected to draw more than 35,000 radio operators at parks and malls across the country, according to the American Radio Relay League, a national organization for amateur radio operators.
“We can operate around the world,” Armbruster said. “We can send messages back and forth to people when phone lines are down.”
Although these radios can serve for emergency communications, they are predominantly used as a hobby in which one can talk to a stranger across the world.
“You might even wind up in a conversation for 20 minutes. You can talk about family, this and that, your gear. It’s happened to all of us,” said Bill Aber, 62, of Green Creek section of Middle Township.
Aber said signals can even reach the International Space Station.
Armbruster said many club members still know Morse code, even though it is no longer required for a license. He said the club has about 75 members.
Club member Ed Maher, 63, of Cape May Court House, learned Morse code in the Coast Guard.
“You learn it by sound. You don’t learn it by light or sight,” he said. “I was in radio school for six months. So we were pounding the old fashioned Smith Coronas for several hours every day learning the Morse code.”
Amateur radios work on a different level than other communications methods that rely on infrastructure, Aber said.
They also add an element of intrigue as a hobby, even as cell phones became ubiquitous.
“I like the exotic nature of the hobby of sending a radio signal from your location and you don’t know exactly where it’s going,” Maher said.
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