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Amateur radio enthusiasts ham it up in Milford Connecticut.


The Woodmont Amateur Radio Association President Ed Rhodes shows ongoing projects in the radio room at the club's headquarters at the Woodmont Borough Hall in Milford, Conn. on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023


When Edwin Rhodes and John Barrett met a few years ago, they knew instantly they were on the same frequency. The two amateur radio enthusiasts soon formed a club that has grown into something more like a family.


The pair formed the Woodmont Amateur Radio Association nearly a decade ago. The club spends its time focusing on members' passion for broadcasting, in addition to remaining ready for any breakdown of communication that may come down the road.


"After we created the club, we started getting members, started doing things, and started assisting in public service events," said Barrett. "The universal thing is people looking for someone to help teach them or to share what they know or to have good comradery with people you feel comfortable with."


For the duo, this club was created to be a welcoming place for amateur radio operators, referred to as hams. According to amateur radio lore, the term came from a telegraph operator pejorative, where someone who is unskilled is referred to as being "ham-handed."


"This is not a club, it's a family," said Rhodes, call sign WA1LEI and president of WARA. "There's a lot of individuals who've been here since Day One and have joined and followed us through our trials and tribulations of putting the club together."


Rhodes said he didn't know Barrett back in 2014 — when the club officially started — but came to know him through one of his students.


"We got together, and in one meeting, we kicked this thing off," Rhodes said.


"We sat together and came up with a general plan," recalled Barrett, call sign KC1ADT.


Barrett and Rhodes are licensed ham radio operators, with Rhodes having more than 20 years of experience. When they first started the club, Barrett said he didn't know much about the hobby.


"I had never been on the air, but I had a license," he said. "I was frustrated because I couldn't find anyone to show me, and that is what clubs are about."


Barrett said hams also help develop new technologies, provide education and offer public service.


"Many people confuse us with citizens band radio, but we are vastly different," Barrett said. "Technologically, they are limited to certain channels to go through. We get whole stretches of the spectrum. We can also travel incredibly long distances and transmit and receive worldwide."


"During one of our meetings, a satellite was going overhead, and Rob was able to contact a person in Florida," said Lee Ann Boyle, call sign KC1EYT.


Locally, the club has equipped the Red Cross building in Milford with antennas to provide communications with all Red Cross shelters in the region without using any preexisting infrastructure.


Their efforts also include providing radio communication at local events such as the Woodmont 5K Road Race, the Milford Oyster Festival, Boy Scout events and the Climb to the Clouds in New Hampshire.


"During the Woodmont 5K, we are the ones around the course and are the only ones tied back to a central location," said Barrett. "We do the same thing (at) the New York Marathon. The runners are told to look for us, the people wearing ugly mustered colored hats, if they have concerns or are in trouble."


Barrett said the club members are also proactive in keeping an eye out for runners who are staggering or are not looking well during the New York Marathon.


"We are the only radio network tied into everything," he said. "The police can only talk to the police. Fire talks to fire. We talk to marathon control. We have our people in all the medical tents, and essentially we can dispatch paramedics because we are the only ones who have a direct connection there."


This past year, club members also provided video security at the marathon, Barrett said.


Rhodes was a ham radio operator at the Boston Marathon during the deadly attacks in 2013.


"I had the head of the Red Cross for Massachusetts at my station," he said. "After the event happened, the police shut down the phone system, and then they looked at us for communications. We were told what happened, but we were told not to tell anybody else what happened. I was located at one of the places where there supposedly was a package."


Rhodes said the radio operators were able to transition seamlessly from broadcasting status updates to becoming an emergency network.


Barrett wasn't surprised the hams shifted gears so quickly in response to an emergency.


"As hams, we are trained in incident command system," added Barrett.


To practice for incidents and have fun ham radio operators participate in a semi-annual field days that involve every ham radio in the country.


"In 24 hours, we try to make as many contacts as you can, and you get points," said Ralph Krone, call sign, KB1ZYI.


These field days and winter field days tie into public service, according to Jonah Frey, call sign KC1RXB. The next field day is June 24-25.


The field days also give hams a chance to practice for the event that communication systems temporarily go down for a region, he said.


The days start with hams setting up their equipment in a field, with no infrastructure, Barrett said.


"You have to build it all yourself, get on the air, make the contacts and disappear," he said. "This happens all across the United States and Canada. Then, you do the same on winter field day, just in the cold and snow."


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