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“You can just put on the radio and everything else melts away,” said Candlewood Amateur Radio Association’s (CARA) President Mr. Bud Kozloff of his passion for ham radio. Kozloff, along with dozens of other local enthusiasts, kept a steady 24-hour vigil–from 2 pm on June 26 to 2 pm on the 27th–to make contacts with other ham radio users, aka “hams,” around the world. A bi-annual event, the Radio Field Day was based at the New Fairfield Ball Pond Fire Department with setups both indoors and out, when the weather accommodated.

A trending hobby, Mr. John Morelli, of New Fairfield, said that there are approximately 750K ham radio users in the United States and nearly 2.5M worldwide. With exponential growth in the last 10 years, ham radio attracts a wide range of users, including those who are inspired by its connection to public service and others who may be attracted to the communication capabilities, from technology buffs to preppers and survivalists. Morelli describes the exchanges with all ham radio users, which often consist of a swapping of weather conditions and always a summary of location and connection type, as remarkably friendly and kind. He loves that the fraternity–it’s definitely a male-dominated hobby–never strays into politics or religion and that there are no social or racial barriers. They make connections, log them, and then often send a physical postcard to each other, though that process is slowly being replaced by electronic logs.  All CARA members expressed appreciation for the great sense of community in the world of ham radio.

Mr. Dan Fegley, of Brookfield, explained that he and his wife, Brenda, are avid ham radio users with a primary goal to provide public service. In fact, the Radio Field Day event was sponsored by the National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) with the aim to demonstrate how amateur radio can be a vital link in local or worldwide communications. The 49 members of CARA can be mobilized by local, state or federal officials to provide a conduit of information in times of need. They often pass along news  to local family members following far flung natural disasters, such as hurricanes in the Carribean, and provide a critical service during extended power outages, from the eastern seaboard blackout in the summer of 2003 to all of the extreme storms in recent years. Ham radio users were essential in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Adhering to all rules, including no swearing, singing, or music playing, they and others take very seriously the commitment to check frequencies at 6 pm every evening in case there is critical information to pass along.

During quieter times, ham radio operators primarily attempt to make connections with other users. The extent of the connection’s distance greatly depends on the user’s certification level (which unlocks the frequencies a user is allowed) and the equipment of the user. An entry-level user can get started in the hobby with as little as a $100 investment and can speak to other ham radio operators worldwide, especially with the capabilities that are made possible when a user taps into the internet’s streaming audio technology. While there are hobbyists of all levels, hams can all be involved as much or as little as they’d like. Some users prefer to make and log connections, others may want to try interesting connections, such as connecting to the International Space Station when it’s in their area, and still more may participate in the frequent contests and other personal challenges that are held throughout the nation and worldwide.

There’s a large contingent of Amateur Extras–the users with the highest proficiency in ham radio–who often have technological setups that are worth thousands of dollars and who prefer to keep the process traditional.  Kozloff, for example, had tapped out morse code for nearly three hours straight when he took a well-deserved break and understandably said, “My brain is kind of fried right now.” Morelli explained that the licensing, which used to require morse code training for all levels, has relaxed a bit, allowing for more entry-level users to enter the hobby.

For Kozloff–who got started over 50 years ago when he discovered his uncle’s short-wave radio and was amazed with the technology after contacting Moscow–and many others, ham radio is far more than just a hobby, it’s definitely a way of life. For more information on CARA and ham radios, visit Cararadioclub.org.