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Telling Alaska’s Story: John Bury talks about 67 years as a ham radio operator

If one drives by John Bury’s house in West Anchorage, they can’t help but notice the huge antennas that seem to reach to the sky. Bury’s “antenna farm,” as he calls it, is his link to communicating with people from all over the world.

Bury has been a ham radio operator for 67 of his 80 years. Originally from Wisconsin, Bury was introduced to ham radio as a young teen by his father. In 1966, Bury, his wife Susan and their young daughter headed north to accept a job teaching in rural Alaska. They brought their ham radio equipment with them and, over the next 10 years in the bush, were glad they did.

“Back then we didn’t have any other communication. There were no telephones in the village or anything like that,” he said.

Bury used his equipment to communicate with his own family in the Lower 48, order supplies from Seattle and help villagers communicate with one another.

He explained that ham radio operators, also called amateur radio operators, use non-commercial radio frequencies to transmit their signals, which can be a big plus when cell phones or the internet fail. In Alaska, ham radio has often been a lifeline, particularly in disasters like the 1964 earthquake.

“That’s where ham radio really shined because, again, there was no communication here and it was ham radio that got the first messages out,” Bury said.

Bury said for him, his hobby, which is more of a lifestyle, has been greatly enhanced by the people he has met on the air. His studio is lined with postcards, called QSL cards, that operators often send to each other after they’ve chatted over the airwaves.

“It’s just a nice little thing to have, it’s been traditional to ham radio since we started,” he said.

Bury’s card, which includes his call letters: KL7QZ, shows a picture of his family kayaking in summer and a winter shot of Bury in his studio. The back of the card gives information about Turnagain Arm and the view that Bury can see from his living room window.

Bury said one of the best things about ham radio operators is they can take their portable equipment with them anywhere, including up mountains, on bicycles, on the water, even into space.

“Astronauts have to be hams, and there’s a ham radio station on the space station,” Bury said. “So we get to talk to them.”

Bury said it’s pretty special to send a message into space and hear back. He has a postcard on his wall from the International Space Station.


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