This article appeared in the Wednesday May 27th edition of the Suburban Life Newspaper. Reporter Joe Sinopoli spent the evening at the May CSRA General meeting….
Some call him Ed Schumacher. Many others know him as WA9GQK. Same goes for Scott Childers, or W9CHI as he is know in the amateur radio world.
The two Westchester residents are members of the Westchester-based Chicago Suburban Radio Association, which is celebrating its 85th birthday this year. Its members are of all ages and come from throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.
It all started when a handful of amateur radio operators got together in 1924 to discuss their mutual interest in the airwaves. A year later the association was formed in Chicago.
Today, the association is the oldest radio club in the county.
Amateur radio, otherwise known as ham radio, is a multifaceted hobby centered on wireless, worldwide communication. Operators can communicate verbally or by Morse Code, and can make contacts across the globe or even in outer space. Amateur radio buffs are among a handful of people who can actually drop a line to the International Space Station orbiting Earth.
Just because they are called amateurs does not mean they are not skilled communicators. The term signifies the operators cannot financially benefit by communications.
Such a hobby is no stretch for Childers, afternoon host and IT director for WSSR Star 96.7 FM.
“It’s the communication, the ability to pick up a microphone and see where your voice will go,” he said. “It’s fun to talk to people. How interesting is it to be able to speak to someone in Cuba, someone in Russia or Brazil?”
Schumacher, an engineer by profession and club president, said it is the technical aspect of radio that interests him so much.
“I must be from a galaxy where we were all technicians,” he said. “From the first time I saw the Boy Scouts electronics merit badge books, it just grabbed me, and I went to read every book the Berwyn Library had on it.”
But it is not entirely about fun and games.
Ham operators have been responding to emergency situations since the beginning of the medium and play an important role in communicating in areas when the infrastructure has failed. Ham operators provided communications in such emergencies as the Plainfield tornado, the Shuttle Columbia recovery effort and the World Trade Center tragedy on 9/11.
The club will be participating in an emergency preparedness Field Day exercise June 27 at Veterans Park in North Riverside. There they will test their operator’s skills in setting up and operating radio equipment under emergency situations where power is not available.
The exercise simulates natural and man-made disaster conditions.