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Youth Center welcomes ham radio operators

By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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Static from radio speakers cleared Wednesday night at the Lincoln Youth Center and suddenly the 30 students there heard a conversation in Florida. The youth center, open to area sixth-eighth graders Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons from 3 to 6 p.m., hosted the Western Placer Amateur Radio Club on Wednesday to bring hands-on demonstrations to the students and expose them to a variety of topics they wouldn’t otherwise know about, said Youth Services Officer Steve Krueger of the Lincoln Police Department. “The whole idea is to keep them busy with constructive things so they’re not just sitting around with nothing to do,” Krueger said. Krueger added that the after-school hours are critical to keep kids busy so they don’t get into trouble out of boredom, and having a place for all students to go is a great way to prevent crime. “We’re going to try to introduce amateur radio to the young people,” said Roger Brunnquell, the radio club’s training officer and a board member. “It’s open to all ages and it’s easy and cheap to become an operator.” Far from being just a hobby, ham radio operators are often called upon during catastrophes, Brunnquell explained, adding that all conventional communications were lost, and ham radio operators were assigned to emergency vehicles to help coordinate the response during Hurricane Katrina and the deadly 1989 earthquake in San Francisco. During Lincoln’s Tour de Lincoln and Fourth of July and Christmas parades, Brunnquell added, ham-radio operators provide the communications and that serves as a means to practice in case a disaster ever hits Lincoln. In his demonstration to the youths, Brunnquell caught their attention when he explained how he has bounced a radio signal off the moon and back to Earth and that it’s possible, under certain conditions, to talk with other operators anywhere in the world with no more power than required by a 100-watt light bulb. Brunnquell also detailed other facets of operating ham radios, including how to get a license and the cost of equipment, then switched the radio sets on and started conversations with other operators in the area, letting several youth speak on the air. Leo Diaz, 14, a Twelve Bridges Middle School student, was the first student to talk on the air. “It was pretty cool,” Leo said, adding that he never talked on the radio before and might want to become licensed. Cammie Gelbuda, 12, a Glen Edwards Middle School student, eagerly approached the microphone on her turn. Cammie was able to get on the air with a Yuba City man. “I want to get my license,” she said. The test to become an operator, Brunnquell told Cammie, costs $14 and can be taken locally. Cammie and several other children stayed after the presentation for more information. “I liked using the microphone,” said 12-year-old Steven Saunders, who attends Glen Edwards Middle School. “I talked to Vicki about all kinds of different stuff,” he added, referencing one of the local ham-radio operators the children spoke with on the air. Brunnquell added that one benefit to all operators being licensed is that there are no “crazies” on the air and all generally conform to the standards of good conduct. At 17, Sam Meijer, a Lincoln High School student, is the youngest member of the Western Placer Amateur Radio Club. Meijer said he became involved because of his interest in electronics and curiosity on seeing a large antenna in town. “I’m mostly interested in the community-service aspect,” Meijer said. “I also want to be able to help out in an emergency.” As students idly played with their cell phones while waiting for their turn to speak, Brunnquell told them ham-radio operators invented cellular phones as a hobby. For more information on ham radios and to become an operator, visit www.wparc.org. For more information on the Lincoln Youth Center, located at 391 H St., call Krueger at 343-3632. Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at brandond@goldcountrymedia.com.