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Carnegie's smallest 'ham' can hang with seasoned vets

| Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For The Bridgeville Area News
Steel City Amateur Radio Club President Richard Danko of Brentwood sets up a ham radio at the members clubhouse in Collier Township.
Randy Jarosz | For The Bridgeville Area News
Danko stands in front of the clubhouse in Collier Township with the club's call letters W3KWH.

He is the smallest ‘ham' in town.

At 11 years old, Gabriel Finch is the youngest member of the Steel City Amateur Radio Club, an organization of amateur radio operators that has its clubhouse in Collier Township. Also known as “hams” they gathered last weekend for the club's annual Field Day events.

Despite his age, Finch, of Carnegie, tackled the radio like a professional, speaking in jargon that would confuse the novice onlooker.

But his talents for radio broadcasting didn't come overnight. A student at Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, he had to take a test to obtain a license from the Federal Communication Commission.

“I took a ham class for eight weeks then I took my technician exam,” Finch said. “Weeks later, I got my license.”

Finch attributes his interest to his grandfather, Don Smith, who sparked his curiosity in the hobby. He said the unlimited possibilities keep him in the game.

“I do it to talk to people around the world,” Finch said.

Field Day was like a massive test run for the ham community. And it didn't go unnoticed. For its efforts, the Steel City Amateur Radio Club received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.

It was a global event that started at 2 p.m. June 22 and ran for 24 hours. Amateur radio operators displayed their skills and radios to the public in parks, malls, or schools.

According to corresponding secretary Robert Mente, an estimated 35,000 operators participated in the country. This number is dwarfed by the 700,000 amateur radio operators in the United States, and 2.5 million worldwide.

“We wanted to raise public awareness of what we do in disasters and times of emergencies,” Mente said.

Richard Danko is president of the Steel City Amateur Radio Club and notes hams' place as emergency operators.

“In case of tornadoes, or hurricanes, we run an emergency system here that can run 24 hours a day seven days a week if we have to,” Danko said.

These amateurs often have been critical in emergency situations, especially when other forms of communication fail. During the Oklahoma tornados last year, ham operators were an important medium for informing the masses.

“What we are is like a relay station if the power goes out,” Danko said. “We don't rely on cell towers or none of that stuff. “

Although they help during disasters, they are never in the line of fire.

“Public service officials don't want us in harm's way,” Mente said. “We only make our reports when it's safe to do so.”

They also simply like to have fun. “It allows the radio clubs to play with their equipment, to have fun, and to get together,” Brian Cooney, a member and computer specialist, said of the Field Day event. ”It also allows them to interact with the public.”

The organization's clubhouse got few visitors because of its out-of-the-way location. Some other field days were held in in Mingo Creek County Park in Washington County.

Nevertheless, Cooney defended the club's incognito location.

“They tend to be up as high as they can get,” Cooney said. “It's going to make it easier for your antennas to communicate with somebody else's antennas.”

David Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5804 or dpaulk@tribweb.com.

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