In the Pipeline: Ham radio to the rescue

A recent headline on Reuters read: "Subculture of Americans prepares for civilization's collapse." The subsequent story documented a subculture of Americans who refer to themselves as "preppers." As the story stated, "Some are driven by a fear of imminent societal collapse, others are worried about terrorism, and many have a vague concern that an escalating series of natural disasters is leading to some type of environmental cataclysm."

I saw this story the day after I met Don Daily, 73, in the parking lot at the Bolsa Chica wetlands. For the past several months, I'd noticed a red van parked in the far corner of the lot in the morning when I took my walk. More noticeable, however, was a strange-looking, 40-foot antenna reaching up into the sky, attached to the van, resembling a sort of reverse Christmas tree shape.

The tower elicited glares and stares from many in the parking lot, and so one day when I saw a man in a black watch cap tinkering with the base of the tower, I stopped to talk to him. This was my introduction to Daily.

"I'm a spy for the FBI!" he laughed when I introduced myself. Evidently, more than one person has asked Daily what he's up to, and that's become his joke reply. People also ask him if he's monitoring bird activity.

But, as he will explain, he co-designed this interesting tower structure, and he is no more than a very motivated ham (or amateur) radio enthusiast who is concerned that whenever some form of societal interruption hits, people will no longer be able to communicate. "Ham radio to the rescue!" he chuckled once more.

Daily told me he was set up 20 years ago in this very same spot with a monstrous 120-foot antenna tower, conducting tests as he does today. "I'm trying to improve this antenna out here," he said seriously. "I talk all over the world each day to people, then log all of the averages to measure how the antenna is working. Conditions vary each day due to sun spot cycles, but I learn more each day about the tower's effectiveness."

The former electrical mechanical maintenance engineer is joined most mornings by an old high school chum, Mike McCurdy, who meets Daily before dawn to set the tower up and often sticks around until about 9 p.m. to help dismantle it.

The history of ham radio goes back to the late 19th century, and Daily has been a devotee since he was a teenager. In fact, he also tells me that he still feels like a teenager when he's out setting up his tower (no small feat, but he's in fantastic physical shape, and works out just about every day).

Today, his biggest concerns are terrorist threats and national disasters, and he believes that if the power grids go down, ham radio will be an important way for people to communicate. So that's why he's out there every day, putting his new tower to the test, logging each hour to analyze how his signal is functioning. Daily likes this particular parking lot because he says the lack of power and abundance of salt water both work to bolster his signal strength.

So should we, as a society, have to deal with some sort of catastrophe, natural or otherwise, know that a ham radio expert is on the case, just in case, right on Pacific Coast Highway near the entrance to Bolsa Chica State Beach.

Also, a note on two upcoming events. All are invited to the Central Library from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to meet and greet 15 authors and illustrators as part of the annual Authors Festival organized by the Friends of the Children's Library (FOTCL). These authors are coming to the library after spending a day in residence at local schools, sharing their love of reading and writing with students. Barnes & Noble will be selling the authors' books, so it's a great chance to come out and get them signed. I'll be appearing at the event (and at Sowers Middle School earlier in the day), so come by and say hi.

There will also be an awards ceremony to honor the 30 students chosen as winners of the "Living in the Library" writing and illustrating contest sponsored by the FOTCL and the Sand Scribes children's writing group. The Authors Festival is funded by a generous grant from the Employees Community Fund of Boeing California.

Also, on Monday evening KinderVision will be hosting its annual banquet at SeaCliff Country Club. Join Major League Baseball Hall of Fame host Rollie Fingers and fellow Hall-of-Famer Goose Gossage, with former stars Al Downing, Bobby Grich and lots of other players for a fun night. I will be there and plan on hosting the Q&A with the players. And they even give you a free baseball for autographs. For information, contact Sheila Comparan at (714) 843-6080 or email her at

KinderVision is the national personal safety education program that helps protects kids from sexual exploitation and abduction, and it's already hosted some wonderful events here in Huntington Beach.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at

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