TYLER, Minn. (AP) – A chance encounter while showing goats at a 1960s county fair in Iowa led Duane Wyatt to the discovery of amateur radio, a discovery he now hopes to pass on to a new generation.
“There was a ham radio station underneath the grandstand,” Wyatt said, thinking back to his first encounter with short-wave radio. “He was there every day and I was just fascinated by it. I would spend more time there than taking care of my animals.”
Wyatt and four of his friends spent a lot of time under that grandstand, learning everything they could from the radio operator. Even in his youth, Wyatt said he knew it was something he wanted to turn into a lifelong hobby.
“I was fascinated by the Morse code,” he said. “I was never much interested in the voice part of it, but I loved the Morse code. It was called brass pounding back then.”
Ham radio, or amateur radio, uses low-band frequencies to transmit voice or Morse code signals over long distances. Wyatt said he’s communicated with people from around the world using Morse code, boasting that he talks to at least one person every day from various parts of the world.
“It’s loads of fun,” Wyatt said. “I love it. My kids get mad at me because I spend too much time on it. It’s addicting for me.”
Growing up, Wyatt said he spent a lot of time in his room learning Morse code – about a half hour a day for three months. Wyatt can type an impressive 40 words a minute in the electronic language and decode the beeps just as fast.
Wyatt, along with his friend Wayde Kenneke, set up an amateur radio in The Rock, a youth center in Tyler, in an attempt to spur interest in the technology to the younger generation. Adoption of the technology has been slow, Wyatt said, mostly because of the fast-paced nature of today’s technology.
“With Facebook and all that stuff now there is a lot of other activities for kids to get involved in,” Wyatt said.
Though Wyatt sees a benefit in Morse code, which he considers kind of a “secret language.” It’s similar to texting once you get the hang of it, he said, and could help boost a kid’s self-esteem if they can communicate and decode messages between friends using the language.
“Morse code is kind of like the fun, challenge, and skill of video games, without the violence, plus the utility of texting,” Wyatt said. “Cell phone texting plus video gaming is Morse code.”
Wyatt said he believes Morse code could help boost self-esteem in youths by providing them a different way to communicate. Several years ago Wyatt started a project he calls Kids Club to bring amateur radio to kids in hospitals.
“I started about thinking about how to elevate kids’ self-esteem in a different way,” Wyatt said. “I knew (Morse code) was fun for me, and it’s something that their peers wouldn’t be able to do.”
The goal of the project is to distribute ham radio units to children’s hospitals so that kids could experience the technology and talk to one another in a new and fun way. The project is not without obstacles. Wyatt said a license is required to transmit, as amateur radio is heavily regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.
“You don’t need a license to listen,” Wyatt said. “but you need a license to transmit or be supervised by someone with a license.”
A few years ago Wyatt gave the first Kids Club unit to a children’s hospital in Tampa, Fla. Since that first unit, Wyatt has struggled to find the right people to expand the program further. In the future he said he hopes to be able to find someone to continue the project and bring the unique communication tool to the younger generation.
“I’d like to find a way where these hospitalized kids could have a radio receiver and listen,” he said. “I can’t find anyone to help me and it’s frustrating. I know how much fun this is.”
By PHILLIP BOCK
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