Radio enthusiasts practice skills that hopefully are never needed

When land lines and cell towers fail, it will be the “ham” radios that keep the channels of communication open.

To prove it, for a 24-hour period starting on Saturday, amateur radio broadcasters with the Crescenta Valley Radio Club monitored the airwaves from Verdugo Park as part of an annual display of their ability to pick up where modern equipment might fail in a major disaster. And they do it all with little more than a solar panel, antennas and batteries.

Members of the group spent Saturday touching base with people in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Hawaii.

The exchanges were basic, brief acknowledgments, with the Glendale crew establishing itself as “Alpha Delta Six India Zulu.”

In the world of amateur radio — in which private citizens have access to certain frequencies for non-commercial, wireless experimentation and emergency communication — those who practice do so with a certain sense of duty.

Also known as “ham” radios, they’ve been called to action before when other systems have failed.

Once, a contractor tearing up Brand Boulevard accidentally cut the phone lines running to Glendale Memorial Hospital and 20 club members handled 10 hours worth of calls.

When Y2K loomed and Glendale police and fire officials were unsure if their communication systems would remain operating, the club’s vice president, Larry Cohen, set up his radio at a fire station on Verdugo Road.

“Finally, I broke it down and went home at three o’clock in the morning,” Cohen said. “That’s when we realized everything was working just fine.”

Cohen also spent three days at his radio when Hurricane Katrina hit, listening to the “Health and Welfare” traffic in case he was needed with other hams to direct people to misplaced loved ones.

During the 2009 Station fire, Cohen let the Red Cross know which supplies were needed at Crescenta Valley High School, which served as an emergency shelter.

To operate a ham radio, members need to take a three-level test for their license, which is issued by the Federal Communications Commission.

“You can study for a week and get a license,” said Mark Gershen, president of the club, which is actively recruiting new members.

In Glendale, there are nearly 600 ham radio operators and about 650,000 in the nation, Gershen said.

The 30-member group meets for one Sunday each month on the same frequency. Sometimes they work out of the Emergency Operations Center, the basement underneath Glendale City Hall that was once a bomb shelter.

Club member Joe Pardo said it’s good to be part of a radio community, especially when disaster strikes.

“I’m in Tujunga, and if there’s an earthquake, I can call this guy on the radio,” he said, pointing to Gershen. “At least I have a link."

-- Kelly Corrigan, Times Community News

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World