Keeping the spirit of radio alive

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Josh Penland, 12, of Hauser, and family friend Adam Crippen of Post Falls make contact with a female ham radio operator in Oregon during the annual Amateur Radio Field Day in Majestic Park in Rathdrum. The event encourages amateur operators to contact as many people as they can while testing their skills and equipment in the field. (DEVIN WEEKS/Press)

RATHDRUM — In case of a total communications failure, amateur radio operators like 12-year-old Josh Penland will be able to save the day.

"My grandpa worked for Hewlett-Packard and he’s taught me about a bunch of different electronic stuff and I guess it just stuck with me," Josh, of Hauser, said Saturday. "He told me about ham radio. I took the class and I learned all about it and I got really interested in it."

As a new member of the Kootenai Amateur Radio Society (KARS), Josh joined his colleagues in testing their radio skills and making as many connections over the airwaves as possible during the American Radio Relay League's annual Amateur Radio Field Day.

KARS members set up three stations in Majestic Park in Rathdrum to make contact during the two-day event, which will wrap up at 11 a.m. today.

Josh, a homeschooler headed into seventh grade, said amateur radio has "a lot more to it" when comparing it with internet communication.

"You can actually use some of the stuff you know and talk to different people without sending an email or anything," he said.

"Sometimes I get up at 3 in the morning and I could talk to Australia with the equivalent of a 100-watt light bulb,” added KARS vice president Jim Petersen. "It’s really fun."

Petersen explained that as well as being entertaining and opening dialogue with other radio operators around the world, amateur radio operation can also be crucial in times of catastrophe and emergency.

"It boils down to preparedness and communications," he said. "There's nothing that stops us from getting on the air. We could use a car battery."

Amateur Radio Field Day began in 1933 and only did not occur during World War II years. KARS, which has about 100 members, formed in 1952 and has participated in the field day every year.

"The interesting thing that I have found out about amateur radio operators is the density of extraordinary people is very high," said KARS member Mike Glauser of Coeur d’Alene, call sign AI7MG. "When I first started off in the ’70s, I was doing emergency communications from the Red Cross during the fires and earthquakes in Southern California. That gave me a sense of service. After the Florida and Texas disasters happened, I thought, ‘I better get back into service again.'"

Amateur radio enthusiasts can get certified for a small fee and get started with a transceiver for as little as $400 or $500.

Those interested in learning more about amateur radio or joining the club can visit for details.

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