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Ham radio operators world-wide talkers

Ham radio operators met in person recently as a way to put a face to people they talk to frequently over radio waves.

A group of radio operators in the "Pico Net" met in Nevis last week for lunch and conversation. Members of the group are for the most part living in Minnesota.

The participants, called "hams," are able to use wireless radio equipment for chatting with other "hams" as well as serving a public service and being available in emergency situations, if needed.

Bill Jones of Park Rapids organized this year's gathering and has been a ham radio operator for about 20 years.

"I was always interested in electronics," he said.

He is in charge of the ham radio in St. Joseph's Area Health Services and tests it once a month.

The radio would be used in case a tornado or other inclement weather caused telephone lines to be down, Jones said.

"There's people from every profession who use ham radios," he said.

From Park Rapids, Jones has talked to someone in Japan or even the United Kingdom through his radio.

Ham radios aren't just about fun, though. They can be used in emergency situations when telephone lines are down, Jones said.

Also, they're used for public service.

The Courage Center Handiham Center is one of the public services that many "hams" help out with. People who work for the center teach people with disabilities and sensory impairments how to use amateur radio as a hobby or for public service.

Jerry Mertz has been talking through radios for even longer than Jones. He earned his first license when he was 13 years old. Fifty-six years later, he is still operating radios.

He used to live in Sioux City, Iowa, but retired to Park Rapids.

"I've talked to 80-some different countries," Mertz said, "three times."

He mostly uses a radio in his car.

Mertz spent time working with electronics in the Air Force and he has worked with radios throughout that time.

"I enjoy the camaraderie," Mertz said.

Mertz primarily uses radio in his vehicle. He has a large antenna he can hook up to his vehicle when he's out on trips that runs off the motor and battery.

He communicates using Morse code, he said. There are many people who still communicate using Morse code over radio.

Mertz likes being able to talk with someone in many places across the country or the world at different times.

He hopes more young people will want to become "hams."

"We're trying to generate interest in younger people," Mertz said.

During the "ham" gathering, many people told stories about how they became an amateur radio operator.

For many, it was because a friend or family member was involved with radio. Others were simply interested in electronics. Many had been using radios for decades while others were new to the trade.

There were a few younger "hams" at the Pico net reunion last week too.

Two of the youngest members, Eric Bassamore and Patrick Lewis, from Hackensack, joined recently because a friend and a teacher encouraged them. Bassamore is a senior in high school and Lewis just graduated.

While many of their classmates use the Internet or cell phones to communicate, they prefer ham radios.

"It's way better than phones," Bassamore said.

"You can call all over the world," Lewis said.