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Events present chance to tune in to ham radio

John Matthew Levickas Tinley Park operate an amateur radio past STARS Field Day event.  |  Supplied photo

John and Matthew Levickas, of Tinley Park, operate an amateur radio at a past STARS Field Day event. | Supplied photo

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If you go

What: Field Day

When: Saturday and Sunday. Events begin at noon Saturday and continue during daylight hours until noon Sunday.

Where: Hawk Hollow Grove, Messenger Woods, Bruce Road and east of Cedar Road, Homer Glen; and at the New Lenox village commons, 1 Veterans Parkway.

Visit:, STARS Amateur Radio Club at, the Illinois Radio League at and the American Radio Relay League at

Updated: July 22, 2013 6:55PM

In the age of smartphones, Facebook and even old-fashioned email, the ham radio is making a comeback — and for one very sound reason.

During disasters — tornadoes, fires and storms, and even tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombing — ham radio operators provide critical information, said Scott Follmer of Manhattan, an amateur radio enthusiast.

“When other communications are knocked out, emergency responders can still communicate with each other,” Follmer said.

On Saturday and Sunday, the community will have two opportunities to try out ham radios, talk to local operators, witness public demonstrations of ham radio’s emergency communication abilities and learn how to obtain an FCC license.

The Suburban Technical Amateur Repeater System (STARS) in Worth will host one event at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen. The Illinois Radio League will offer a similar gathering at the New Lenox village commons. Follmer belongs to both groups.

These activities are part of Amateur Radio week, sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for amateur radio. Relying on their slogan “When All Else Fails, Ham Radio Works,” radio operators will craft emergency stations using only emergency power supplies.

Last year, in events across the country, more than 35,000 people participated. Amateur radio operators are called “hams,” Follmer said, which led to the term “ham” radio.

Although Follmer was always interested in amateur radio, not until 2008 did he find time to pursue it. He began by talking to other operators and learning how ham radios worked. Follmer now also buys and repairs antique tube radios.

“You can still buy parts for them at ham fests,” Follmer said. “They’re like big swap meets or flea markets.”

Amateur radio is growing, Follmer said, with more than 700,000 licensees in the United States and 2.5 million around the world. Some operators prefer the Morse code aspect, while others like ham radio’s ability to endure when a crisis hits.

This is because such radios don’t depend on the Internet or cell towers; ham radios only require air to work, Follmer said.

Through the ARRL’s Amateur Radio Emergency Services program, ham volunteers provide free emergency communications for thousands of state and local emergency response agencies, Follmer said, as well as for nonemergency community services.

Still, nothing beats the thrill of putting out a call and seeing who might respond, unlike texting or telephone calls, when one is sending a message to a specific recipient.

“You can reach people in Alaska or Germany,” Follmer said. “I’ve talked to people in Mexico or Texas but I haven’t reached anyone in Europe yet.”

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