‘It’s old school, but new cool’ | Penn State’s Ham Radio Club has been bringing enthusiasts together for over a century | Way of life


The Penn State Amateur Radio Club has been around since 1909, making it the university’s oldest club still in operation – but its members refuse to let their organization be left behind in today’s hectic, cellphone-filled society. .

Colloquially known as amateur radio, amateur radio uses the radio frequency spectrum for the purposes of non-commercial communication, recreation, competition, and wireless experimentation.

“It’s old school, but new cool. Amateur radio has a history of over a hundred years,” said Rick Gilmore, professor of psychology and adviser to the Ham Radio Club. “We hope to convince a new generation of people to get their licenses and join us on the airwaves.”

Gilmore became the club’s adviser after his colleague and “colleague” retired.

His amateur radio experience spanned much of his life to the present, though not always on a continuous basis.

Although Gilmore originally got his license from the Federal Communications Commission while in graduate school, he said his passion for amateur radio and the community came a bit later in life.

“It wasn’t until 2016 that I read a book – a science fiction book – where ham radio played a small role in the story,” Gilmore said. “I said, ‘Well, I’ve always been interested in amateur radio, [so] I’m going to get my license back.’ »

This time he also found a community of radio amateurs to “learn the ins and outs [of the hobby] and get support.

“One of the reasons I’m excited about the club at Penn State is that ham radio is a technical hobby, yes, but it’s also a social hobby,” Gilmore said.

Club president Eric Wu said the Ham Radio Club is “probably different from other clubs on campus”.

“We are more of a hands-on club, so we have high-frequency radios in the club room,” Wu (senior mechanical engineer) said. “Club members come into the club room and turn on the radio and talk with people from all over the world.”

Wu, who is also a student auxiliary officer for the university, noted that while the club is all about communication and radio to talk with other people, amateur radio can also serve as an “emergency resource during a public crisis.

Ham Radio Club, although often considered a technical hobby, is open to people of all disciplines. Wu said the club has members studying a wide variety of disciplines, including business, education and computing.

“All majors are welcome to learn more about amateur radio,” he said.

Anyone interested in learning more about amateur radio is welcome to join the club, and no experience is required. Wu himself has stated that he was a student pilot when he first realized his interest in amateur radio.

“I was a student pilot three years ago, so we always talked to air traffic controllers when we were flying,” Wu said.

After speaking with traffic controllers in the air, Wu said he would return to his car and still feel like he should speak with someone on the radio.

Other members of the club have different stories about their introduction to amateur radio. Ruth Willet is the event planner for the university’s amateur radio club, and she got her start in Morse code.

“Amateur radio is a service and a hobby that enables two-way communication around the world,” said Willet (an acoustics graduate).

Willet said one aspect of ham radio she really enjoys is being able to talk with other people all over the country and around the world.

“We’re listening [the] radio all the time, but it’s just listening — that’s one way,” Willet said. “Amateur radio allows us to have conversations with people from all over town, across the country, and even with astronauts on the International Space Station.”


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Along with Wu and Gilmore, Willet encourages people from all walks of amateur radio and all majors to join the club.

Although a license is required to operate an amateur radio individually, Willet explained that it is not necessary for students to obtain their license before joining the club.

“The great thing about the school club is that we already have a license,” Willet said. “So as long as you’re here with someone licensed like Eric or me, you can get on the air and learn things.”

Members wishing to obtain their license to operate amateur radio outside the club can also expect help and guidance from already licensed members to pass their FCC license test.

“We can prepare the tests for club members to get their license. Most club members now have their own license,” Wu said.

Willet expressed a similar sentiment, explaining that the aim of the Ham Radio Club is “to help people discover the hobby”.

“If you’re interested enough to get your permit, we’ll be here to help you through the process,” she said.

Willet said the reasons for licensing go beyond just using the radios, especially for students.

“One important thing is that there are several organizations within amateur radio that administer scholarships,” Willet said. “So if you’re interested in the club and get your license – even if it’s just an entry-level license – you can apply for scholarships.”

There are many upcoming plans and activities that the Ham Radio Club will take part in in the coming months, including a “School Club Roundup,” where students involved in amateur radio from elementary through college compete to get in touch. with as many people as possible in a given time.

Willet said she also wants to plan “Fox Hunts” – a form of amateur radio hide-and-seek where small, low-power transmitters are hidden, and the rest of the group searches for these transmitters, often using portable receivers.

“Anyone of any background, any interest [and] anything major is welcome, and we’ll find things for you to do,” Willet said. “If you want to know more about the technical side, you can build. But if you just want to talk to people, we already have the equipment. Just come and learn how to talk to people.


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