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From Baton Rouge to Belize, local ham radio operators talk around the globe

The small room near the top of the USS Kidd is tight, with just about enough room for a ham radio and, at a stretch, four people.

For ham operators Pam and Jeff Welsh, it's all the space they need.

On the morning of Oct. 13 the pair — both members of the Baton Rouge Amateur Radio Club — were hunched over a ham radio, fiddling with dials and knobs as the sound of static filled the room. The BRARC, for short, was marking the occasion of the U.S. Navy's birthday by transmitting from the Kidd, with people tuning in from around the country and farther afield.

As of 11 a.m., they'd taken messages from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Illinois and, of all places, Belize.

As Jeff Welsh turned a dial, a voice emerged out of the fuzz. He smiled. "See? There's another one," he said.

The BRARC has been transmitting since 1937. Its club station aboard the Kidd has the call sign W5KID, and it's a very popular one: Making contact with a World War II destroyer is, evidently, rather prestigious.

Pam Welsh, right, and Jon Reise systematically power down the USS Kidd radio station after their session.

"From the Kidd, conversations don't get particularly lengthy," Jeff Welsh said.

"There are so many people anxious to make contact, so usually it's a matter of a few stats and things like that."

Ham radio is a world unto itself. A throwback to the days before the internet and cellphones, it sees operators make contact with each other over the airwaves for a quick chat, after which they often send each other special QSL cards through the mail as physical proof of their connection.

It's a passion that can keep people hooked for decades. Some members of the BRARC have operated their radios since the 1950s and '60s.

Club member John Krupsky has been tinkering with ham radio since 1965. For him, its appeal lies in both the human aspect of meeting a wide array of people, and the technological one of fiddling with radios.

"I like talking to people in distant locations, but also the ability to experiment with radios and learn about technology and transmitting," he said. "As a licensed ham operator you can have the experience of building your own equipment, putting up antennas, seeing how they work."

Baton Rouge Amateur Radio Club member John Krupsky exits the radio station near the top of USS Kidd.

Other operators are more recent converts, with the Welshes achieving their first level of ham licensing in 2010. There are three levels of licensing: amateur extra class, general class and technician class.

The pair were encouraged by friends, while Jeff Welsh's lifelong love of technology also came into play.

"Back in the day everybody used radios," Pam Welsh said. "There were no computers and not the sort of technology there is today."

"CB radio was the cool thing," Jeff Welsh added. "Though you don't want to use that sort of speak on ham radio, saying '10-4' and things like that. It's frowned upon."

Jon Reise opens a QSL card from Pennsylvania on the second floor of USS Kidd Veterans Museum. QSL cards are mailed between ham radio stations that have contacted each other previously and contain the callsign of the radio station from which it was sent.

Over the years, ham radio has attracted its fair share of notable operators, including King Hussein of Jordan, Howard Hughes and Walter Cronkite (the latter dubbed the "most trusted ham in amateur radio” by one wit.) NSYNC's Lance Bass is also purported to be an aficionado, although, in a sign of the times, there's conjecture in online groups that he's being impersonated by Russian trolls.

The BRARC holds events throughout the year, with upcoming ones, both onboard the Kidd, on Veterans Day and National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. The club, which has a membership of somewhere around 106, is always open to new members.

For Jeff Welsh, ham radio is fun, rewarding and, despite the technological aspect, straightforward.

"If you can use a cellphone or a computer it's really easy," he said. "All you do is dial into a frequency. It's not difficult."


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