ShareThis Page

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.