Flagler County, FL – Don Wessels picked up his amateur radio license at the age of 11. Heading into the local amateur radio club in Watseka, Illinois in 1964, it was just two decades after the end of World War II, and among the club members were members of The Greatest Generation. Sharing their knowledge, he learned Morse code and how to use “ham radios” from some of history’s greatest communicators.
On Saturday at the Hammock Community Center, Wessels was one of five licensed ham radio operators pulling the graveyard shift and taking part in the 24-hour Amateur Radio field day exercises from June 26-27th.
“These guys were middle aged guys banging on telegraph keys and talking all around the world,” recalled Wessels. “I got into it because I thought it was really cool.”
It’s such a cool hobby that with perfect timing and permission you could even communicate with the International Space Station.
Making contact with operators in North and South America during the event, newly licensed operator Terry Potter was thrilled to make contact with his very first long distance operator in Broadnax, Virginia.
He’d joined the Flagler Palm Coast Amateur Radio Club (FPARC) to learn more about the hobby that boasts 779,648 licensed operators in the United States and more than 3 million worldwide.
“I joined the club so I could learn how. This field day is a great experience to get on the air and learn a lot,” he said, helping to put up a mobile antenna earlier in the day.
Assisting Potter with his first event, Anthony Cinelli, president of FPARC and his son 18-year old Mac (Martin) were also on the overnight shift.
Making contact with Puerto Rico, New York, New Jersey, Alabama, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Canada, and even picking up England, it’s an exciting hobby for the father and son to do together.
Hanging with the guys, Mac says it’s been useful in his future studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University as an aspiring aerospace engineering specializing in propulsion to ‘build faster rockets to go farther than ever before’.
“We’ve been participating in these events since I was born, before I could walk,” said Mac. “When I first got my license at 16, I didn’t realize at the time how valuable (it was) and how much it would teach me.”
Dad Anthony Cinelli has been an amateur operator since 2000. He says 9/11 and living in south Florida during hurricane season changed his perspective about emergency communications in a disaster situation.
“I got interested in it in college. I saw the value in being able to do something to help out,” he said, noting that when a disaster strikes and traditional communications methods are down, ham radio operators can be that lifeline to communicating with people in the disaster zone.
“We have operators who will try to get a message to your loved ones,” he said.
Getting started seems relatively easy. All you’d need is a 100 watt radio, a 12 volt battery – or a car battery, and a wire up in a tree, to get up and running, but he advises consulting those with more experience first.
“If you’re starting from scratch, I’d tell you to join your local club because the members are a wealth of knowledge. In ham radio lingo, the people who help you get started are ‘Elmers’,” said Cinelli. “We’ve got all different skill levels in the club.
Comparing it to a golf or fishing hobby, Cinelli says it’s a common activity for people who have science, technology, engineering or mathematics jobs.
“Some people play golf, we play radio. There are people from all walks of life who have STEM jobs that want to do this kind of thing for fun.”
Working with the Flagler Emergency Communications Association, Daytona Beach Amateur Radio Association and Flagler County’s REACT team, the annual field day operations are an exercise in keeping skills sharp, especially in an emergency situation and building a rapport with other operators locally and across the nation.
“The whole point of field day is to put up makeshift antennas and radio stations, pretend there’s an emergency, run away from home, and see how many contacts you can make with other groups and stations doing the same thing,” said Cinelli.
“We’re practicing for an emergency because you never know when something’s going to happen,” he said, appreciative that Flagler County Emergency Operations had granted them emergency operations status for the purpose of the exercise.
“At the end of the day, we’re here to help the county and people of the county. We’re here for emergency management but also for the residents.”
Featured Photo: Pulling the overnight shift, Freddie Maresco, Don Wessels, Anthony Cinelli, Mac Cinelli and Terry Potter make contact with other amateur ham radio operators in North and South America during the 2021 Ham Radio Field Day 24-hour event, held across the nation, as part of the Flagler Palm Coast Amateur Radio Club.