Amateur radio enthusiasts gather in Bennington

Curtis Dude displays his handheld radio displaying a contact with an operator in Houston.

Curtis Dude displays his handheld radio displaying a contact with an operator in Houston. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Curtis Dude searches the horizon using a handheld antenna to locate the signal broadcast from the International Space Station.

Curtis Dude searches the horizon using a handheld antenna to locate the signal broadcast from the International Space Station. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Curtis Dude displays his handheld crossed-yagi antenna, a design developed in Japan that helps focus the radio waves into a concentrated beam.

Curtis Dude displays his handheld crossed-yagi antenna, a design developed in Japan that helps focus the radio waves into a concentrated beam. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Curtis Dude connects his handheld antenna to a radio to prepare to locate the International Space Station.

Curtis Dude connects his handheld antenna to a radio to prepare to locate the International Space Station. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Chris Bosse, left, demonstrates how to send a photo between two phones using only sound with Curtis Dude.

Chris Bosse, left, demonstrates how to send a photo between two phones using only sound with Curtis Dude. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Curtis Dude locates the International Space Station using a handheld antenna.

Curtis Dude locates the International Space Station using a handheld antenna. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Curtis Dude explains radio frequencies.

Curtis Dude explains radio frequencies. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

By CAMERON CASHMAN

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 06-06-2024 12:03 PM

Modified: 06-06-2024 12:11 PM


Curtis Dude of Bennington demonstrated how to use a handheld radio and directional antenna to receive a ping from the International Space Station as it passed above the horizon Tuesday evening.

The handheld equipment was necessary because, “I have to follow the International Space Station across the sky.” Due to the distance of the ISS from the Bennington VFW building, the signal could be relatively weak.

This didn’t seem to be an issue, though, during the Bennington Amateur Radio Forum Tuesday. Dude began receiving a signal from the station as soon as he stepped outside. Dude was also able to pick up on an amateur radio station in Cancun, Mexico, that was bouncing its signal off of the ISS, as well as a radio operator in Houston doing the same.

The ISS has its own set of amateur radio equipment on board. It is possible to have two-way conversations with ISS astronauts via amateur radio, but the privilege is usually reserved for students.

“Most if not all of the NASA astronauts are licensed amateur radio operators. And they will talk to you; they’ll get on the air sometimes,” Dude said.

“A big deal is setting up events where a school will prepare in advance to learn about amateur radio, and set up a station,” said David Mueller of Dublin. “They get on a schedule to be able to talk to [ISS astronauts] for 10 minutes.”

Dude said that he participated in such an event with Hudson Memorial School students in Hudson.

For amateur radio enthusiasts like Dude, radio communication is a daily activity, a hobby and a practical way to provide support to others in times of emergency. Dude noted that radio bands are valued in the financial industry to allow stock markets and banks to transmit important information quickly – even faster than the internet.

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“So why would the FCC allow people like myself to use these precious radio bands? The No. 1 reason is that if you use normal means of communication, then you have an educated, able group of people able to maintain communications,” Dude said. “That could be during a localized incident, like an ice storm here, a hurricane in Puerto Rico – or it can be a larger event, a hurricane up the coast with flooding, or a tsunami or something. Things happen that can overload the grid.”

Dude explained that amateur radio operators frequently step up during emergencies, such as the 9/11 attacks, to help improve or re-establish communication if it has been knocked out.

“They don’t make it mandatory, but believe me – the people step up and help,” he said. “On one hand, it’s a wonderful hobby, and on the other hand it’s a great tool for emergencies.”

A potential emergency response is only a small fraction of the world of amateur radio, in which interest is “booming,” Dude said.

In order to operate an amateur radio station, one must first receive a license.

“There’s three levels of licensing for amateur radio, and for each one you have to pass a test,” Mueller explained. “Each level gets harder because there’s more information, but you get more privileges on the bands that are assigned for amateur radio.”

A license to operate an amateur radio station is necessary because of the reach amateur radio has. Since radio operators can often connect with other amateur radio enthusiasts from around the world, a certain level of caution is necessary when interacting with operators in other countries.

For example, potentially sensitive information cannot be shared over amateur radio unless it is already publicly available. This helps prevent operators from sharing intelligence information to foreign agents.

“Because we do have the power to communicate far distances, we do sort of impact international relations a little bit,” said Chris Bosse of Deering.

It’s also against FCC regulations to broadcast programming such as music or talk shows for copyright reasons.

Regulations like these, along with the technical operation of a radio station, are what aspiring amateur radio operators will be tested on throughout the process of receiving a license.

The technical aspects of radio broadcasting can be daunting for some. Newcomers should know the three key elements of radio broadcasting: frequencies, bands and the signal’s power, which is measured in watts.

Radio signals are broadcast using electromagnetic waves. A wave’s frequency, measured in hertz (Hz) indicates how often the waves repeat themselves in a given time period. More-frequent repetitions result in a high-frequency signal, while low-frequency signals repeat more slowly.

Radio waves of different frequencies can exist concurrently, and listeners can tune their radio to a specific frequency to hear the material being broadcast on that frequency.

With that in mind, a radio band is a specific range of frequencies used for certain purposes. For instance, the ISS broadcasts at a frequency around 145 MHz. In order to receive the broadcast from the ISS, Dude had to tune his radio to the correct frequency.

Finally, the wattage of the signal’s power affects how strong the signal is. High-watt signals come in clearer and reach greater distances than lower-watt signals, although it also depends on the length of the antenna, as well.

Dude invites anyone interested in amateur radio to visit the Bennington VFW on the first Tuesday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m. The first hour usually includes a demonstration, and the second hour is dedicated to answering questions and helping newcomers work toward their radio license.

The next forum is on July 2, and Dude will demonstrate what radio operators call “summits on the air,” where they will attempt to contact radio towers on top of local mountains.