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Locals 'ham it up'

By Stephanie Grinnell

In an age of technology, the term ''ham radio'' may bring to mind images of dark rooms, bulky equipment and Morse code, but a new ham radio club based in Gorham aims to show members how wrong that perception is.

''Ham radio is really cutting edge,'' Wireless Society of Southern Maine member Tim Watson said.

The Wireless Society of Southern Maine started meeting in the spring, though their first official meeting was last month, Watson said. There currently are about a dozen members of the club.

''With a simple wire for an antenna and only a few watts, you can talk to the world. That's the fun part of ham radio,'' club President Charlie Shepard said in a release.

Watson said club members meet once per month in the winter and more often during summer months. During the winter, meetings are at Gorham Recreation Department at the municipal complex. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. People are welcome to attend meetings without being a member of the club and club membership costs $12 per year, Watson said.

Ham radio is the basis for a lot of current technology, including text messaging, Watson said.

''It's not just Morse code,'' he said, adding pictures and voice over Internet are other options.

''You'd be amazed at the different types of communication available to us,'' Shepard said. ''We are legally licensed to talk to any of the other 3 million amateurs in more than 300 countries around the world, including those stationed at the North and South poles and even astronauts in orbit.''

Watson said there are no requirements for new members and children are welcome.

''One of the things we want to do is promote the hobby,'' he said.

To transmit, ham radio operators must have a license and there are three levels of licenses, Watson said. People should also take a technicians class, which covers safety, FCC rules and basic radio and electronics knowledge.

Watson said he and his twin brother became interested in ham radio because their father worked in broadcast radio, though Watson said he is more interested in the technical aspects. He said club members encourage each other to become licensed or move up to the next level as well as perform community service. The club also offers communications support for large events and emergency communications.

''Some of it is just fun,'' Watson said. ''We see how far away we can get. Eastern Russia is the farthest so far.''

The club uses dipole antennas and a 100 watt radio and Watson said there is one club member able to communicate by satellite.

The club is seeking new members from the area. More information can be found on the club website at www.qsl.net/ws1sm.


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