SPRING HILL — Young Dustin Henderson and his adolescent pals used one to save the world from monsters from another dimension in the hit TV series “Stranger Things.”
What did they use? A ham radio.
The Netflix series is pure fiction, but the idea that a ham radio was the vital link in an emergency isn’t farfetched at all, say members of the Spring Hill Amateur Radio Club, an organization dedicated to the hobby of ham radio.
Communications have improved much in the 30 years since the period the television show depicts, and ham operators today are not as crucial as they once were. Nevertheless, they still stand ready to help when catastrophe strikes, said Lenny Sechrist, vice president of the Spring Hill Amateur Radio Club. Most notably, club members stepped in to handle help and welfare duties to the Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Michael roared through in a year ago. The help involved getting messages to and placing calls to family members to report the status of those impacted by the storm.
“It’s just one of the things we do to help when needed,” said Sechrist, whose been a licensed amateur radio operator since 1983.
“With police, fire and emergency workers now on the trunk system (able to communicate via radio across agencies) we’re not as relevant as we once were,” he said. “But we still serve a function in emergencies like Michael.”
When duty isn’t calling, the more than 100 members of the club are getting together monthly for regular meetings, get-togethers at local parks, beaches, for lunch, breakfast or holiday parties.
“It’s a social thing as much as anything else,’ said Sechrist, who said the “social aspect of the Spring Hill” club is one of the reasons he joined three years ago.
Members pay $20 a year in dues and must be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, which is not difficult to obtain, to join. The FCC, for example, no longer requires would-be amateur operators to learn Morse code in order to be licensed.
Anyone, however, is welcome to attend meetings, which are held at the Spring Hill VFW Post, 14736 Edward R. Noll Drive. The club’s calendar and other information is online at http://www.springhillarc.com.
Member Cal Ribianszky has been licensed for about 20 years. Like many ham operators, the thrill is all about making connections with other operators, including those in far-off lands. It was just that which got him hooked.
It was before Ribianszky had “voice privileges” and he was only allowed to listen to ham chatter.
“I heard someone here talking to a missionary in the Amazon, then a guy from Australia joined the conversation,” said Ribianszky. “It was fascinating that these people were connecting from so far away.”
Another club member, Harry Chamberlain, said one never knows who they might end up talking to via ham. He recalls years ago having conversations with a ham operator who called himself Barry.
“He just went by Barry, but it was Barry Goldwater,” said Chamberlain, referring to the late former Republican U.S. senator and 1964 GOP presidential candidate from Arizona. “He called me Harry and I called him Barry.”
Club member Leon Andrews said many ham operators chatted with another famed ham hobbyist, the late King Hussein of Jordan.
“You never know who you’re going to meet,” said Andrews, who, like Chamberlain, got into the hobby after being influenced by his fathers, who were both radio operators in the military.
“It’s in the family for a lot of guys,” said Chamberlain. “A lot of it goes back to military radio operators.”
While the FCC no longer requires every radio contact be logged, ham hobbyist often keep records of their contacts, said Sechrist, whose logged contact with 175 countries or territories. He still logs all his contacts, exchanging QSL contact confirmation cards with other operators who keep them in index files.
Sechrist’s latest interest is a state and national parks initiative that encourages radio operators to transmit from parks. Sechrist said “hunters” participating listen for the transmissions of the “initiators” in the parks. Both log contacts to keep track of their participation level in the program.
Those interested in the hobby can get started with just a small investment in equipment, said Ribianszky, though for the truly ham addicted it can become expensive.
The real barrier hammies face these days is deed restrictions, he said. Seems a lot of home owners associations don’t permit radio antennas in neighborhoods.
“These days you really have to live out in the country for this hobby,” he said.