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Is ham radio still a thing?

Operating off the Grid, Wayne Brittingham and Pete Carpenter demonstrate the value of ham radio at Parks on the Air.

Ham radio, also known as amateur radio, has been around for more than 100 years. While it started as a way regular citizens could experiment with Morse code communication, it soon became wireless voice communication. With modern technologies such as cell phones and the internet, it would seem there is no need for radio communication. But ask any one of the almost 2,000 FCC-licensed ham radio operators in Delaware, and they will say it’s more than a thing. For many, it is a part of every day.

The month of October has been especially busy for ham radio. On Saturday, Oct. 7, a group of “hams” from the Nanticoke Amateur Radio Club set up their equipment at Redden State Forest just south of Georgetown. The purpose of the event was to give the operators experience in setting up an operational field station completely off the grid. They then spent several hours in “Parks On The Air” (POTA) conversation with other hams, many of whom were located in a variety of parks and public lands around the globe. The parks communication has become very popular, organizers said, and many operators can be found in a park using either Morse code or voice mode to make as many contacts as they can around the world.

Located about 300 feet away from the POTA group was an automatic radio tracking antenna. A Redden State Forester said it is an antenna designed to monitor migratory birds. The research tracking devices are receivers that use a designated frequency range on the radio wave spectrum. Since ham radio also has specific frequency ranges for operation, there was no chance of interference from the ham radio operations. The forestry officer explained there are a number of migratory tracking antennas in the research program, but the one at Redden Forest is the only one in Delaware.

John Ferguson, K3PFW, explains how Morse Code works to students at 911 Awareness Day.

On Oct. 12, the Sussex County Emergency Operations Complex held their annual “911 Awareness Day,” an annual exposition to educate the community about emergency services. Visitors, including many children, were given a tour of the emergency complex and spent time at outdoor displays that included a wide variety of fire, ambulance, forestry and safety demonstrations, as well as the County mobile command unit (MCU).

The MCU is a mobile 911 facility that can be deployed on standby to provide emergency communication to and from large public gatherings or disaster sites. The Sussex Auxiliary Communications group (AUXCOMM) regularly assists the mobile facility and was on hand for the event. At public events, such as area fireworks, parades and the recent Apple Scrapple in Bridgeville, where the MCU sets up, AUXCOMM operators use handheld amateur radios and roam the event to provide feet on the ground. Using ham radio, these operators have the ability to immediately alert emergency personnel that they are needed.

At this year’s Apple Scrapple Festival on Oct. 14, ham radio AUXCOMM operators from Kent and Sussex counties work under the command of the EOC to assist visitors and provide information to the MCU.

At this year’s Apple Scrapple Festival on Oct. 14, 20 ham radio AUXCOMM operators from Kent and Sussex counties worked under the command of the EOC to assist visitors and provide information to the MCU. The hams gave directions to things like the ATM machine, bus stops and where the scrapple sandwiches can be found. They also communicate with the MCU about families that are separated or people who are suffering any number of physical symptoms or ailments and need medical assistance.

The weekend of Oct. 21, licensed operators from Kent and Sussex counties conducted the annual Simulated Emergency Test (SET). Since emergencies are not planned and occur at the most inopportune time, there is no information provided for the activity in advance. Many operators keep a go-kit and are prepared to go when and where needed with their own radio equipment and supplies.

In addition to Morse code and voice communications, new digital modes and technologies for modern ham radio are being developed. Ham operators can now send text messages, email, weather reports and location reports without the internet, using only radio waves. These technologies allow ham radio to be used during natural disasters or other emergencies where more widely used methods of communication may not be available. Because of the nature of a ham radio station, it can be set up anywhere, requires no commercial power, is relatively inexpensive, and if one station fails, the rest of the system continues without any interruption. So, the answer is: Yes, ham radio is still a thing.

For more information about ham radio, visit, email or ask any ham.


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