Gloucester County residents, and those from surrounding counties, have been convening, month after month, for the past 60 years at various locations to share with one another their love for amateur radio.
The Gloucester County Amateur Radio Club brings together people of all walks of life to explore how to transmit and receive radio waves.
“[Amateur radio] stemmed out of Word War II and military service where there was a lot of communication,” said Jim Wright, trustee and former president. “It’s 100 percent civilian and it was started by hobbyists. It resulted in a ton of things, such as transmitters in our phones and satellites.”
Amateur radio, he added, is often also called ham radio.
Members have been meeting at a clubhouse at the Gloucester County 4H Fairgrounds in Mullica Hill to share one another’s expertise in amateur radio for the past 25 years. Previously, they met at each others’ homes or at community centers in the county.
Wright added members are people who work at hospitals, car garages, restore old arcade games and police officers – among others. One member in recent memory, he added, has worked directly in radio at KYW News Radio.
The amateur club isn’t the only one in existence in South Jersey, however, Wright said it’s largest one in terms of membership. He said members are encouraged to join other clubs because they may focus on different aspects of radio. The Gloucester County club is a general interest club.
Most members are licensed through the Amateur Radio Relay League, which serves as the national governing body of amateur radio. Licenses show a person can operate a radio and adhere to federal laws. Licenses can be obtained by visiting www.ARRL.org.
Within the club, Wright said members learn, or teach others, about using the radio for assisting first responders in dire times of need. The radios the club uses do not operate using cell phone signals, as permitted by the FCC, and can, many times, serve as a back-up for law enforcement when their radios are intercepted.
“There’s an emergency operation center in Clayton and they offer a room that we staff in the event of an emergency,” he said. “We bring everything in with the members, radios, and we lend out our expertise and personnel.”
He added EMTs will often seek a license in operating amateur radio as a means of backup communication.
“It’s a hobby, but it has a critical service component to it,” he said.
In the past, Wright said the club has welcomed Nobel Prize winner Joe Taylor to speak at a meeting and various other telecommunication and radio experts.
The club largely raises money to fund it through membership dues, which range from $20 to $10 depending on if the prospective member has a license or not, and through Hamfest.
“We host a Hamfest, which is like a swap meet garage sale at the fairgrounds each September,” he added. “People can sell equipment from the backs of their trucks and we sell tickets for that.”
To learn more about the Gloucester County Amateur Radio Club, visit www.W2MMD.org. The 41st annual Hamfest is scheduled for Sept. 15 beginning at 8 a.m. at the fairgrounds. Admission is $9.
“It’s a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics and communications together,” he said. “People use it talk around town, the world and space without a cell phone or the internet.”