ROCKINGHAM — Rick Seccondro is the newest “ham” member to the Richmond County Amateur Radio Club, but said it took about 40 years before he realized he wanted to get back into radio communication.
Seccondro said when he was around 13 or 14 years old, he took an interest in radios. When he was of age, he obtained his novice radio license. but due to circumstances, he didn’t progress further with any of the higher license levels.
He said it wasn’t until a few years ago when he attended an air show and he saw an amateur radio group, that he started thinking about taking up the hobby again.
“It reignited the fire and spark again,” he said. “A Google search later, I found the club and went to their meeting three months ago.”
Seccondro said it took him about eight weeks to study for the Technician class license, which he passed. He said he has plans to take an exam for the General class license this weekend.
“I feel reasonably well prepared,” he said. “But I still want to take more practice exams. But I feel comfortable.”
According to the National Association for Amateur Radio, there are three levels of licenses: Technician, General and Extra.
The Technician class license is the entry-level license for most new ham radio operators. To earn the license, it requires passing one exam totaling 35 questions on radio theory, regulations and operating practices. The Technician license gives access to all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 megahertz, allowing licensees the ability to communicate locally and often within North America. With the Technician license, it also allows for some limited privileges on the HF or “short wave” bands used for international communication.
The General class license grants some operating privileges on all Amateur Radio bands and all operating modes. The license opens doors to world-wide communications.
The Amateur Extra class license conveys all available U.S. Amateur Radio operating privileges on all bands and modes. This license is the most difficult to obtain.
With his Technician class license, Seccondro said he was able to talk to someone — ironically named Rick — from New Zealand.
“I found it funny that with all the people I could connect to, I found a guy named Rick,” he said. “He was talking about the weather down under and the geography.”
Allan Brown, secretary and treasurer for the Richmond County Amateur Radio Club, said he’s talked to over 240 different countries. Brown said the group uses a website called the Logbook of the World to document their communication. Once they send out a communication and it’s received by the other country and they send it back, the site confirms it and they exchange a card that shows they’ve communicated with each other.
Brown said the latest communication he’s had overseas was from Mayotte, an archipelago (or a group of islands) in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the coast of Mozambique. He keeps track of all the places he’s talked with by sticking a pin on a map in his workspace.
“If I stuck a pin in it (Mayotte), it covers the island,” said Brown.
Brown said there are several reasons people take an interest in radio, like talking with people across the globe digitally or through morse code. While in the Coast Guard, Brown said he learned morse code and still has the machine he used back in the 1950s. Brown said it’s his preferred communication type.
Seccondro said he uses technology to do most of his talking. To talk with the guy from New Zealand, Seccondro said he used EchoLink, software to communicate with others over the Internet using streaming-audio technology.
In addition to talking with people around the world, Brown said in times of emergency, ham radio is often the final line of communication.
“When electric power is lost, a ham radio can be hooked up to a car battery and continue providing emergency communications,” said Brown. “As was evidenced by the destruction in Puerto Rico.”
Back in 2017 when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, thousands were left without power and ways to communicate with their loved ones to see if they were OK. Roughly two dozen amateur radio operators on the island helped police and first responders communicate when their radio networks failed completely, according to an article written by NBC News.
Seccondro said the best piece of advice he could give those interested in wanting to pursue radio is to reach out to a local club and attend a meeting. He said the amateur radio guys at the air show let his son use their equipment and was inspired by how fascinated his son was that he wanted to get back into it.
“You’ll be able to meet some of the newer guys who are the ones that are a few steps ahead of where you are,” he said. “They can provide insight on how to proceed through the hobby, best practices, etc. There’s a lot of information online, but getting first-hand knowledge is good.”
He also advises those wanting to take the test to practice, practice, practice and practice some more.
“Take those practice exams and you’ll get through,” he said.
Brown said there are around four to five members who are licensed to oversee/grade the Federal Communications Commission approved testing to obtain a license or upgrade their current license. Brown said the club awarded Seccondro a Baofeng HT (hand-held transceiver radio) that is suitable for communications with any radio repeater on very high frequencies (VHF) when he passed his licensing exam.
Brown said anyone interested in radios or learning more is welcome to attend their monthly meetings. They meet the second Saturday of each month at 9:30 a.m. at the Thomas H. Leath Memorial Library in Rockingham. And every third month (March, June, September and December), they hold a license testing session for those interested in obtaining an amateur radio license.