Ham radio operators: A long-lasting technology

Published: June 24, 2022 3:36 PM EDT
Updated: June 24, 2022 5:09 PM EDT

With all the changes and advancements in technology, it is remarkable to see one particular hobby last more than 100 years even in times of trouble. That’s amateur radio.

From his home in Punta Gorda, Marty Purselley can communicate with other ham radio operators all over the world.

“We can see England, Puerto Rico. We can see France, Canada, Norway,” says Purselley as he uses software to scan for other ham radio stations.

A small radio with a waterfall display of wavelengths sits next to his laptop where the sound of Morse code runs continuously.

“You can see every one of those lines below that horizontal line is a station transmitting Morse code,” explains Purselley.

Morse code is a language few understand but Purselley learned as a teenager.

“I look back and I go ‘gah, what kid wakes up at 4:30 to go work Morse code?’ Well someone who is a ham radio guy. I had to have my dad drive me to the FCC office to get licensed. I show up in the 77 call books so I was a novice ham,” Purselley said.

In just a matter of five minutes, Purselley can throw up a portable antenna in his backyard and reach someone across the ocean.

In 1979, this unique hobby of amateur radio came in handy.

Ham radio operators help during emergencies when newer technologies tend to crash. (CREDIT: WINK News)

A high school student on April 10th, 1979, Purselley used his ham radio to find a friend’s grandmother caught in the aftermath of a tornado that leveled Wichita Falls, Texas.

Storm spotters all connected via amateur radio for search and rescue operations. Purselley asked them for help.

“We’ve tried to call her. We can’t call her. Is there any way you can get in touch with her? And I said Mike, let me check. I got on a network that was a health and welfare network and the phone lines were down, they couldn’t reach and I talked to the network control operator and I said, can you go check at this address and see if she’s okay,” Purselley said. “They did, they got back. They got back on the air and told me she did, she’s fine. Tell them she’ll be back in touch. And this guy remembered this all these years later and said do you remember that? And I said you know I do remember that now that you mention it. I thought it was no big deal.”

On Sept. 11, 2001, Andrew Pantelides was living and working in New Jersey.

“Once the second plane hit, you knew it wasn’t an accident,” Pantelides said. “Obviously in that whole area, there were no telephones. You know that shutdown everything other than emergency communication. The next day, I brought in all my equipment and set it up in the office just to be on the safe side.”

But even 9/11 is not his most memorable ham radio experience.

“I was traveling some back roads in New Jersey and I came across an automobile accident with the car upside down and my cell phone did not work but my amateur radio got through and I was able to get police, fire and ambulance,” says Pantelides. “We’re there when all else fails. That’s the amateur radio motto. When all else fails, amateur radio is there.”

Dave Weinstein, president of the Charlotte Amateur Radio Society, got his license 61 years ago. For him, it’s a way of life.

“It’s email, Twitter and Snapchat all put together. With nobody in between. Just you and that other person. You think you have your cell phone but trying using that cell phone right after an emergency. It will not be possible,” says Weinstein.

That’s why during hurricanes in Charlotte County, ham radio operators sit side-by-side with county emergency responders.

“We send premade messages out to addressees letting their relatives know that they are OK,” said Weinstein.

Technology that has worked for more than 100 years is still saving lives today.

“Just marrying technology with computers and ham radio. It’s a lot of fun,” says Purselley.

National Summer Field Day for amateur radio operators is this weekend.

It is a time when thousands of operators set up their radios all over the country and communicate with each other only using radio.

There are a number of clubs in Southwest Florida participating and looking to spread their love for the hobby to the younger generation.

You are welcome to join them in Punta Gorda at 29075 Riverview Lane after 2 p.m. Saturday through 2 p.m. Sunday.

You can also check out Field Day at North Ft. Myers Community Park with the Fort Myers Amateur Radio Club.