Several years ago, George Crane was visiting Wesley Commons on a journey to find a continuing care retirement community.
Outside the cafe, in the parking lot, he noticed call letters on the license plate of a vehicle. Being an amateur radio operator, he recognized the call letters as those of a fellow ham radio operator. Crane jotted down his own call letters and a note about where he was moving to in Wesley Commons and placed it under the windshield wiper.
“We were moving in, and this guy came barging in there and said, ‘Where is W3RXF?’” Crane recalls of when he met fellow radio operator Phil Henry, whose car Crane had attached his information to — including his QSL card call letters — during his visit.
The two hit it off, and Henry later championed the idea of having a room available at Wesley Commons for ham radio operators. Crane also joined the Greenwood Amateur Radio Society (GARS) when he moved to Greenwood.
Most of the equipment at the radio center at Wesley Commons was donated, including a 60-foot tower, which has a commercial repeater for Wesley Commons’ handheld staff radio communications and also three ham radio antennas.
Crane, who is president of the Wesley Commons ham radio club, said the club is a marketing tool for the community.
“With the influx of retired people and amateur radio operators, something like this would be a marketing tool for growing,” Crane said. “Those who live here who are amateur radio operators, they have the use of this facility.”
Prospective ham radio operators must take a test to become licensed. Licenses have to be renewed every 10 years. Crane learned about amateur radio from his father while living in Pennsylvania.
“They say the bug has to bite you,” Crane said. “My dad was a ham radio operator. As a youngster, I had that experience and exposure. The possibility of communicating with people worldwide was exciting.”
Crane earned his first license in 1951. Part of the test consisted of demonstrating Morse code efficiency. Crane, to this day, prefers Morse code to vocal communication, although he does both. Today’s ham radio license test does not require people to demonstrate code proficiency. The FCC eliminated the requirement in 2007.
Ham radio has been an amateur hobby for more than a century. Operation has been suspended twice by Congress — during World War I and II — because of fears of espionage.
World War II radio surplus was made available to the public for use in amateur radio, and the hobby grew exponentially following the war.
Crane said he realizes that, in today’s age of technology, which includes cellphones and computers, something such as Morse code might seem like “beating a drum,” he said.
“I understand that,” Crane said. “But many would prefer that to voice talking.”
It’s much quieter, too, for those who leave their radios on while they sleep.
Crane said he and fellow members of the Wesley Commons ham radio club enjoy talking to people around the world. They log their calls in a book, with call letters, frequency and location of the person reached. Logging calls used to be mandated by the FCC, but that also is no longer a requirement.
When Crane was growing up, both his father and a boarder in the home — a blind man — were licensed amateur radio operators.
“I got exposed to that and took a liking to it,” Crane said.
His three younger brothers didn’t follow suit.
Crane hopes to see other people from the community join the club, but he’s aware it’s not as popular as other offerings in the community.
“I guess teaching an old dog new tricks is a difficult thing,” he said. “My observation has been that the older members of the community don’t want to take the time to put their nose in a book and study. There might be some attraction for existing ham radio operators as they get into retirement age.”
Crane has taken a young person under his wing, helping a 20-year-old grocery bagger at Publix prepare to get his license in June. The young man showed interest after taking Crane’s groceries to his vehicle and seeing the antennas on his car.
The radio club at Wesley Commons became an official organization in October 2017. It currently has just five members, but Crane hopes to see it grow.
The county emergency preparedness division provided some UHF equipment to the club for use during emergencies. The club is currently looking for backup power options for when there is a power outage.
Field day is a large national event June 23-24. Crane will participate in that as part of GARS. Field day will take place at Coronaca Baptist Church. The annual event is a gathering where radio operators try to make as many contacts as they can. Traditionally, operators would set up a tent in a field and tune into frequencies.
There are various awards in amateur radio, such as the Worked all States (WAS) and the Worked all Continents (WAC) awards, among others.
“I take it with a grain of salt, personally,” Crane said. “I am a member of a (Morse) code organization.”
When he and fellow club members are not transmitting by code, they like to “rag-chew” — or shoot the breeze — with other operators. He said talk generally focuses on radio equipment, antennas and where people used to work. He said operators typically try to avoid talking about religion, politics or other potentially controversial topics.
“Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of it,” Crane said. “In some instances, you have complete families doing it.”
The radio room at Wesley Commons currently has no heat, no water and no bathroom facilities. Those are things the club hopes to work on in the future.