Ruhlmann has been a ham radio operator for 61 years. When he was a youngster, his mother got her radio license because Thomas and his brother were up all night on the radio and she couldn’t sleep.
Now, Ruhlmann enjoys restoring radios from the 1950s.
“It’s kind of like the guys who are retired now and have the hot-rod cars they always wanted as a kid but couldn’t afford then,” he said.
Wisconsin is a stronghold for ham radio enthusiasts. It has some of the nation’s oldest radio clubs, and a “tower farm” near Eau Claire is known for its broadcasting prowess.
On any given day, an operator here might connect with someone in Europe, the Middle East, South America or a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. By bouncing signals off the ionosphere, and even off the moon, ham radio can reach around the world.
“The fun part is getting on the radio and not having any idea who you are going to be talking with. Then all of a sudden you are connected with someone in Croatia or the Canary Islands,” Schank said.
Ham radio uses many frequencies across the VHF, UHF, HF and even microwave bandwidths. Operators must pass a Federal Communications Commission test to acquire a license and cannot use the radio for business purposes.
Ham isn’t the same as citizen band radio, which uses far less powerful equipment for communicating over shorter distances, requires no license and uses fewer channels.
While the Internet has cut into ham radio’s popularity to some extent, it also has improved technology.
Portable equipment carried in a backpack uses less power than it takes to run the light bulb in a refrigerator, said Sean Kutzko, spokesman for the American Radio Relay League, founded in 1914.<< previous 1 2 3 next >>