HANSON, Mass. (AP) - From his barn in Hanson, Mark Vess has been able to contact people from across the world, broadcasting to remote locations such as Antarctica from the comfort of his own home.
While the Internet has made worldwide communication easier than ever, Vess has harkened back to technology of yesteryear, highlighting a global community of amateur radio, also known as ham radio, enthusiasts that connect over the airwaves.
“For all of my life, I’ve heard these voices from faraway places,” Vess said.
As a child, Vess would tinker with his family’s discarded radios and in his 20s he began collecting amateur radio receivers.
In the early days, Vess would only be able to listen to other people’s communications, unable to broadcast himself because of an FCC requirement mandating that all amateur radio operators broadcasting over the airwaves to be licensed.
However, after retiring from a research and development career in the biotech industry, Vess was able to devote himself to the hobby full-time and obtained a license to broadcast from the FCC.
“I have been talking all over the world ever since,” Vess said. On the air, he is known by his call sign, KC1ACF. Call signs are assigned to radio operators to identify themselves over the air.
Over the last year and a half, Vess has built his radio station in his barn, mostly with used equipment. Vess said the Whitman Amateur Radio Club, of which he is a member, was crucial in helping him get started.
The station features four radios set up to cover different distances with the weakest one broadcasting locally while the strongest one reaches around the world.
While Vess has reached operators from exotic locations across the world, their conversations often revolve around everyday occurrences.
“In most cases, it’s your life that you share with other radio operators.
Vess said radio operators adhere to a set of unwritten rules that promote a cordial atmosphere over the air. Religion and politics are hardly ever discussed, and repeatedly trampling over other operators’ conversations will quickly earn you a reputation as a jerk.
Among the different countries Vess has reached by radio include Cuba, Italy, Spain and England. However, he said most of the conversation conducted voer the air is done in English.
“Amateur radio spans the world. It’s in every populated area and especially in unpopulated areas,” Vess said.
Proving his point, Vess reached Antarctica in October, where he said many of the people living at research stations and their support towns communicate over the airwaves.
“It would be mighty lonely down there without amateur radio,” Vess said.
After making contact with another radio operator, it is customary for the two radio operators to mail each other QSL cards. The cards are essentially postcards sent as proof that the two operators contacted each other.
“It’s desirable to get QSL cards from every state, and even more desirable to get cards from every country,” Vess said.
However, Vess’s goals extend far beyond the terrestrial.
“It is my intention to contact the international space shuttle,” Vess said. “Most, if not all, of the space station occupants are amateur radio operators.”
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