When a windstorm knocked out power to thousands of households in a six-county region in March, the fragility of the modern communications most of us have become accustomed to was obvious.
“With the major windstorm everyone lost power and a lot of people in the region were cut off,” said Joseph Gangi, Jr., of Albion. “But we were still able to communicate and get information out there to truckers and people on the roads about road conditions and hazards.”
Gangi was able to communicate via amateur radio (also called ham radio). He’s the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) Coordinator for Orleans County and founder and president of the Community Amateur Radio Club — a group of about 12 members from Orleans County that meets monthly at the Hoag Library in Albion, Orleans County.
During the windstorm, members disseminated information about accidents, downed power lines and missing stop signs to the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department and other operators. Their equipment was run via emergency power (battery backup and solar power) from their homes.
Amateur radio requires a license to transmit (from the Federal Communications Commission), is highly regulated and requires users to pass a test in order to operate. Knowledge of Morse code was once necessary to get your license, but not anymore.
On June 24 and 25, the Community Amateur Radio Club demonstrated and tested that equipment at its annual on-air field day event at the Oak Orchard Lighthouse in Kent, Orleans County.
While I was there, the members of the group connected with fellow amateur radio operators in Illinois, Michigan and Canada — all via simple radios, solar panels, backup batteries and an antenna strung up aside the lighthouse.
“This is an amazing hobby,” said Gangi as his fellow club members worked their radios and talked to curious onlookers visiting the lighthouse. “But as a group, we’re here because we want to serve our community.”
Gangi got involved with amateur radio in 2013 when he stumbled upon some equipment at a garage sale.
He had played around with Citizens Band radio (also known as CB radio) when he was younger, but never ham radio. CB radio is a short-distance radio communications system that doesn’t require a license.
After Gangi was licensed, he formed the Community Amateur Radio Club in 2014. His wife, Michelle, saw how much he enjoyed his new hobby, then she became licensed as well.
“Amateur Radio is a lot of fun,” said Gangi, whose furthest radio contact was with a fellow operator on a cargo ship in the Mediterranean Sea. “Putting your call sign out there and hearing someone from another state or even country respond back is an exciting feeling. It’s a great way of meeting new people who share your common interest in communication.”
Keith Oliver, of Lyndonville, joined the Community Amateur Radio Club last year. Like Gangi, he had played around with non-licensed radios when he was younger and decided to try ham radio for practical reasons.
“Being able to know I can have communications at any time and don’t have to rely on a cellphone in an emergency is important to me,” Oliver said.