In an era of mobile phones and social media, some people in Santa Cruz are celebrating a communications medium used in the county since 1916.
The Santa Cruz County Amateur Radio Club noted its 100 th anniversary at the Museum of Art and History in downtown Santa Cruz on Saturday.
The ham radio club, made up of licensed radio operators, is still going strong in 2016.
Ham radios allow people all over the world to talk to each other without cell phones or the internet.
And while they’ve been around a long time, ham radios can play a critical role in case of a natural disaster like an earthquake and all normal communications like cell phones fail or get overloaded.
“Officials, in their emergency operating center, depend on amateur radio for the first hour or so to get basic information,” said John Charcho, a ham radio operator who lives in Ben Lomond.
Charcho explained that with an amateur radio network, operators can report what’s happening around them in the event of an emergency or crisis.
“We can relay that to the public officials so they know how widespread the damage is,” Charcho said.
Robert Costa is a member of the San Lorenzo Valley Amateur Radio Club. He says ham radio operators provided a critical service during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.9.
“We provided emergency communications from the time of the earthquake at 5:04 p.m. ‘til 3 o’clock in the morning, passing health and welfare information for all the residents in the Santa Cruz mountains up to the Santa Cruz County line,” Costa said.
Amateur radio people, called “Hams,” also provide communications at large non-emergency community events like parades, marathons and even fairs. Ham radio equipment can be set up inside buildings and or out in the field.
The event at the museum showcased the development of amateur radio equipment, including high performance transceivers made in Watsonville by Elecraft.
The youngest member of Santa Cruz County Amateur Radio Club is in the sixth grade.
Beckett Glass, 11, showed off his Morse Code skills. He says he likes ham radio because he can talk to people, but avoids politics.
So what does Glass talk about? “Here’s the funny thing, usually radios,” Glass explained.
Glass recently received his Ham operator’s license, but isn’t stopping there. “I’m going to upgrade it so I can get more privileges, so I can do search and rescue and disaster work,” he said.
There are an estimated 700,000 licensed ham radio operators in the U.S. according to the National Association for Amateur Radio.