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Chatting globally to helping in emergencies

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HAM operator John Pimlott of Lathrop sets up his equipment during the annual Ham Radio Field Day and public demonstration of emergency communications at Ripon’s Fire station No. 2.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED June 27, 2012 1:13 a.m.

Bill Scott carries a handheld radio everywhere he goes.

It’s relatively thick for modern technological equipment and appears not unlike those that are carried by firefighters, police officers and citizens hoping to keep up on the transmissions sent by emergency personnel.

But that’s not what he uses it for.

When linked to the equipment that he has upstairs in his Manteca home, Scott can have a conversation with somebody from Russia, Australia or even Modesto. He can chat it up with other amateur radio operators that enjoy talking to folks around the globe.

It’s the life of a HAM radio enthusiast. And it’s a life that Scott has known for more than three decades.

“A lot of people are bored and don’t have anything to do – I’m never bored,” said Scott – a retired electrician that spent his career at Tracy Defense Depot. “For me it’s all about talking globally. This is pretty much a full time job.

“I was up in Oregon last year and met some guys that were operating. That’s what happens – once your part of this group you’re part of this group.”

Getting to the point that Scott is at, however, requires a lot more than a pocket full of cash and directions to the nearest specialty electronics store.

With FCC licensing requirements and testing, operators often have to prepare extensively – focusing on the rules and regulations that govern their hobby – in order to ensure minimum interference with other communication systems.

Playing music is illegal. Talking on the police band, the fire band or the FAA band is also illegal.

The core concept is using the handle given when licensed by the FCC to contact other people around the world. It utilizes a system that still operates when standard communication systems like phone lines and cellular towers are down.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t HAM radio operators out there in places that Scott and other enthusiasts consider to be home runs when they come across them.

At one point Scott carried on a conversation with a military jet pilot that had a handheld radio in the cockpit – something that he never expected to come across.

But he struck gold when he got the chance to communicate with an astronaut on the International Space Station – something that’s extremely difficult since its speed only keeps it within contact range for four minutes.

It’s safe to say that he loves what he does. And with an antennae and repeater located atop the water tower in Manteca (which will likely be transferred to the Union Road fire station) he knows that his range will allow him to do what he wants.

Drawing in newcomers is also something that’s always on his radar.

The perception might be that the equipment is expensive, but Scott says a starter setup doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg and will serve its purpose while people accustomed to the hobby.

It’s the effort that goes into the licensing, Scott says, that’s valuable.

“It doesn’t have to be expensive,” he said. “It’s like buying a car – you can buy a Ford or you can buy a Rolls Royce. They both go down the road.

“What has the value is the effort that it takes to get into the hobby. The fact that you have to go and study and learn the rules and the technical stuff and take the test – and then there are multiple levels. But being in the club helps people learn where to start.”

The Manteca Amateur Radio Club meets weekly on Thursday nights on 146.985 – PL 100.0, and on the first Thursday of the month at the fire station on Powers Avenue at 7 p.m.

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