A storm rolls through the area knocking out cellphone service and taking the power grid down. Emergency personnel need to communicate and, thanks to the efforts of radio enthusiasts who coordinate communication through their own radios, they can.

Those radio enthusiasts are part of a group known as amateur radio, which began in the early 1900s when the government began regulating radio transmissions, according to the American Radio Relay League.

During that time, the term "ham radio" was coined because military personnel would refer to the amateur radio operators as hams when the operators would unwittingly block transmissions with their own broadcasts, according to ARRL.

A local group of radio hobbyists formed the Greater Norwalk Amateur Radio Club, which has members from all over Fairfield County and New York, to not only have fun, but also to provide needed emergency backup if traditional communication lines go down.

"There are about 2 million amateurs around the world, and the purpose is to make contact with people from all over," GNARC President Vlad Spitzer said. "In the past, amateur radio has been associated as being the last holdout for Morse code, but it also involves going to remote locations and transmitting to other ham radios."

The term amateur

radio was adopted because the Federal Communications Commission preserves specific airwaves for licensed radio operators like the members of GNARC, Spitzer said. However, there are restrictions about what information can be transmitted, as operators are prohibited from conducting any business over the airwaves and cannot conduct political or religious discussions.

"There was a story about a ham operator who was trying to talk to someone on his radio and he ended up talking to someone on a plane," Spitzer said. "It turned out the person he was talking to was a foreign dignitary. I think that's why they don't want us discussing politics or religion, because you could offend someone from another country."

Once a person who is interested in participating in amateur radio passes an exam designed by the FCC, they are assigned a call sign, Spitzer said.

"My call sign is W1ZP, and that identifies me to other operators. You don't always know the name of the person you are talking to, but you do know them by their call sign," Spitzer


In addition to using their radios to contact people from around the world, the club also provides assistance at large events where communication is essential to keeping everything running smoothly.

"We provided help with communication at the New York Marathon to make sure everyone was safe," Spitzer said. "We are also an emergency backup for towns during storms. Our radios aren't dependent on the power grid."

According to ARRL, ham radios are able to transmit over frequencies just above the AM broadcast band and even higher.

Spitzer said operators aren't restricted to just people, as ham radios can also communicate with satellites and even bounce signals off the moon.

Each summer, club members gather in Veterans Memorial Park in Norwalk to participate in Field Day, a 24-hour event where members try to contact as many people as they can on their radios.

"It happens during the last weekend of June and it's a lot of fun," Diamond said.

For more information

about the club, go to www.gnarc.org.

bholbrook@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/bholbrooknews; 203-972-4407