John LoCicero, K4TUG
A tugboat captain saves a foundering club from the deep six.
After a life changing injury aboard the tugboat I captained, I was told I would never be able to return to the job I so loved. I felt like the whole world had just ended. After many months of recovery, I had to say my farewells and deal with the loss of the use of my right arm. I found myself beached for the rest of my life.
So after the self pity finally wore off, I started a new adventure, Amateur Radio. I bought a book called Getting Your Novice License. Well, that started something for which I was not totally prepared. I thought at the time I was going to be able to set up an SSB radio and spend my nights talking to the old gang on tugs out in the Gulf or along the Atlantic. To my dismay I found a Novice license was not going to cut it; I needed at least a General. So it was back to the books and, since I had nothing to lose, I bought a no-code Technician book. In 1999 I successfully passed the Technician test, but this still was not going to allow me on the HF bands. Now came the hard part. I had to learn Morse code.
Learning the dits and dahs was not even the hard part. It was learning to hear those dits and dahs, and make words out of them. Well, for most folks that’s not a big issue, unless you’ve also had hearing problems. There is constant ringing in my ears and I’ve had three operations to cut nerves. There are certain sounds I just don’t hear at all.
That did not deter me. I studied for hours every day, day after day, until I thought I could pass the test. At my first sitting I missed it by three and the next time by two! The third time I walked into the testing room and the examiners told me, “John (by this time they knew me by name) you don’t have to take the test. The FCC dropped the requirements yesterday.” It was December 16 a cold, brisk Saturday morning. I looked at the two gentlemen and said, “The FCC is not going to steal my thunder.”
Lo and behold I passed the test, maybe not by much, but I passed. The General and Extra class tests were not that big an issue in comparison.
How Do You Turn this Thing On?
To my dismay I had not really learned anything about the real world of Amateur Radio. I really knew nothing about how to set up equipment, build and raise an antenna or anything else ham related for that matter. I did learn how to take a test, but nothing about the real nuts and bolts of Amateur Radio. So I turned to where I thought I might find the help I needed. I joined a local club!
My first encounter was a big letdown. The folks in the club were polite, but they were way out of my league. They were speaking a language I had never encountered. After all that studying from many books I was still just as lost as the day I started. Another thing I noticed was that there were only 12 people at the meeting. On the way home I told my friend, Carolyn, I wanted to join the club and see if these folks could help me with this new hobby.
I attended as many meetings as possible through the first year. Then election of club officers came up. I told Carolyn I wanted to be an officer in the club. “Why?” she asked. The way it looked to her, “all they do is argue over silly stuff and besides,” she pointed out “you have not learned anything that you hoped to learn from this endeavor. So why become an officer?”
I explained, “Instead of being part of the problem, why not help solve some of them?” So I put my name in the hat for secretary. Being dyslexic, most people who know me are aware that I can’t spell. As luck would have it, I won anyway! So with Carolyn in tow and a trusty tape recorder in hand, the two of us set off to be the club’s new secretary.
The first thing our new club president wanted was more attendance. What would it take to entice new members? After a lot of brainstorming at each board meeting, we came up with some ideas, which included giving free 1 year memberships to newly licensed hams. We placed a club informational label that said “Are you interested in Amateur Radio?” with our call and phone number on our old QST magazines. We left them in doctors’ offices, hospitals, libraries, attorney’s offices, high schools, colleges and anywhere else we thought we could get some attention.
We contacted schools and offered to become after-school volunteers to teach Amateur Radio to the kids. This, by the way, was not an easy sell. It was a fight for every inch to get into our first school. Then we learned that we could not just teach Amateur Radio, we had to actually wow these kids with robots and kits from which they could build radios and circuits to run some kind of toy or gadget. We introduced them to multiple facets of Amateur Radio — especially computer related activities. Our Schoolhouse Project is now functioning in four area schools.
Our next task, which was very important, was to hold Amateur Radio classes throughout the year. Not just a class to teach the test, but a hands-on class where our students could learn what those knobs on the radio do, as well as how to hold the microphone and actually talk into it. Our antenna team and other Elmers are ready to help set up the ham shack so it is fully functional. Our 30 member VE team is also available to go to the homes of those who cannot attend our regular testing sessions.
Filling the Room
I started looking around the room at the meetings and saw more and more folks attending. We were making progress — little by little.
The next thing we started was what we called the Portable Opps. It started with just me and my friend, Paul, setting up a radio in an area park every Wednesday; we would throw an antenna in a tree, power the radio up using a donated power wheelchair battery and we were on the air. Soon we noticed more and more hams, together with other visitors, showing up to play radio on Wednesday. Now if we don’t have 15 people show up, it must be raining.
Today our club holds five or six classes during the year and more depending on what the members want. In 2011 we held classes for Technician, General and Extra class licenses, each of which runs six Saturday mornings or Wednesday nights. In addition, we provide an 8 week code class that teaches not only code but also how to chose the right key and adjust it for the best feel. By the time the class ends, the student should be able to send 5 WPM. This is followed by a club sponsored practice on the club repeater two nights a week for the next 6 months.
There is a basic electronics course made up of three individual classes. These train the students with step by step instruction in building a 40 meter transceiver and a frequency meter. For the last class they work with ac circuits. A 2 day class in emergency communication and traffic handling caps off the program.
Hams Helping Hams
For those who would like to participate in Amateur Radio but do not have the financial means to do so, we have developed our lend/lease approach. When someone gives or leaves their equipment to the club, we have a committee that considers who might be a candidate for our lend/lease program. After making sure the equipment is fully operational, a team converges on the recipient’s home to set up dipole and J-pole antennas, and an antenna tuner along with a rig that matches their license privileges. We call this our “Hams Helping Hams Team.”
This is how a club should be. It needs to be friendly to all who attend and give people a sense of sharing. We as hams need to teach the young and the old alike, giving them a sense of belonging and friendship. For many hams this is their only way of reaching out and touching someone.
Many hams in our club are housebound. They have a feeling of loss of contact. During 2011 we cooperated with Volusia ARES to set up a program where hams who cannot volunteer at shelters or other official sites will be able to work from their homes and be just as valuable as those who can deploy. These hams will be given an official membership card for ARES and will play just as important a part as those who are able to attend meetings.
Our newest cosponsored program is Neighborhood HamWatch. This is a program where we attend Neighborhood Watch meetings to offer information regarding the help available from local hams in times of disaster.
This is all I have to tell right now but it is not the end of the story. This story has no end because we have just begun to explore the possibilities of what our club can do.
John LoCicero, K4TUG, an ARRL member, was born in Hawaii in 1947. He began his maritime career at 13 as a deck hand on a Mississippi River tugboat. John earned his captain’s license in 1972 and his unlimited master license in ’74. In 1993 he suffered a disabling accident forcing him to retire from the marine industry.
John obtained his Technician license in 1999. In 2008 he was elected president of the Daytona Beach ARC (DBARC), a position he still holds. The DBARC holds 16 different classes each year for anyone interested in Amateur Radio. John can be reached at 807 S Beach St, Daytona Beach, FL 32114-5501, firstname.lastname@example.org.