Radio transmission lives on

Operators take part in national emergency preparation contest at Eisenhower Park

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High-frequency radios were common in the 20th century, a primary communication device during the world wars as well as the Vietnam and Gulf wars. But cell phones and wireless Internet connections replaced them, and amateur radio enthusiasts began to believe their hobby was outdated — until September 11, 2001.

“The New York City Fire Department had a very elaborate communications system — it covered the New York City area and then some,” said Timothy Cregan, district emergency coordinator of the Nassau County Amateur Radio Emergency Service. “The problem is, the antenna was on top of [the World Trade Center’s] Tower One, so when that came down, they lost everything.”

In the midst of a catastrophe, licensed amateur radio operators came to the rescue, and in the process discovered that their hobby would always be useful in times of emergency.

To practice for similar situations, the American Radio Relay League organizes a yearly Field Day competition — the most popular on-the-air event in North America, according to the organization, rallying more than 35,000 amateurs each year who attempt to connect with as many other operators as they can.

After a seven-year hiatus from Eisenhower Park, the Nassau Amateur Radio Club chose the East Meadow venue as its location for this year’s Field Day, which took place last weekend. After setting up four high-frequency stations, which included two oral and two Morse code communications tents, the 50-member club rotated positions during the 24-hour event as they connected with radio operators in Missouri, Texas, Canada, Mexico, Turkey and many other locations.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said NARC President Rob Martens, of Levittown. “It’s a great hobby … [but] nobody knows what we do.”

In addition to Field Day, NARC is a community service organization that volunteers during marathons and other sports events throughout New York. Martens said that more than 400 amateur radio operators from around the tri-state area helped keep runners safe during the New York City marathon last fall by exchanging communications about injuries and other emergencies. (Martens was stationed at mile 19.) They played a similar role during this year’s Long Island marathon.

Martens became interested in communications during his nearly 35-year career in the Marine Corps. “Back in ’63, I was a radiotelegraph operator,” he recounted. “I operated Morse code.” He also served as a naval gunfire responder in Vietnam in 1965, but it wasn’t until 2006 that he became a licensed amateur radio operator and a Community Emergency Response Team member.

While many members of NARC are retirees, Martens is attempting to recruit younger members. “Young people don’t get involved anymore,” he said, adding, “Everybody was old [when I joined]. Now I’m one of them.”

East Meadow resident Jon Goldenberg was one of the members taking part when Field Day kicked off last Saturday, and he started in a Morse code tent. His uncle, Abe Kobr, introduced him to radios when Jon was a kid, and he earned his operator’s license by age 11.

Goldenberg said that fellowship and an interest in technology stirred his involvement in radio operations, but he also thanked his spouse for backing his hobby. “I have a supportive wife who lets me put antennas all over the house,” he said.

NARC member Mike Kozma, of Rockville Centre, designed the five antennas the club used to transmit signals during Field Day. With some help, he built and erected two multi-band antennas, one Yagi antenna -- a beam antenna that radiates power in one direction -- and two single-band antennas. After designing antennas for the military as an electronics engineer, Kozma said, he joined the club in 1990 and has been involved ever since.

“I describe this group like a jigsaw puzzle,” said Martens. “Different shapes and different sizes, but the pieces all fit together.”

For more information on Field Day or to become a member of the Nassau County Amateur Radio Club, which meets in Eisenhower Park on Monday evenings, visit www.nasssaurc.org.