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Ham Radio: Alive and Kicking in the Computer Age

Contact: Arlie Corday, WPI Media & Community Relations

WORCESTER, Mass. - Long before chat rooms and Instant Messenger, people could communicate with friends all over the world for free. Ham radio is still a good way to keep in contact, according to John J. Ruggiero, a Worcester Polytechnic Institute student who is doing all he can to keep this wireless communication alive.

As president of WPI's Wireless Association, Ruggiero is organizing a demonstration of ham radio for Boy Scout troop 140 from Southbridge and Sturbridge, Mass., Sunday, Oct. 17, from 1 to 4 p.m. The event takes place in WPI's Salisbury Laboratories on the Worcester, Mass., campus.

The demonstration is in conjunction with the Jamboree On The Air (JOTA), in which scouts around the world get on the radio to communicate with each other. "Demonstrations will include making contact with local radio operators; making contacts in the U.S. and worldwide on shortwave; demonstrating Morse code, which is a requirement for the Boy Scout Radio Merit Badge; a possible radio satellite demonstration; the origination of radio telegrams to family and friends in the U.S., and the design of a postcard to send to other scouts we've made contact with," said Ruggiero.

Ruggiero, 20, a junior electrical engineering major from Ferrisburgh, Vt., is also a member of the WPI emergency medical service. Here's an interview with Ruggiero about wireless radio and its place in the computer age:

Question: How active is the WPI wireless radio club?
Ruggiero: We hold weekly meetings Thursday afternoons and participate in events throughout the year. Some of these events include teaching amateur radio classes to help interested parties earn their licenses, participating in various radio contests throughout the year against other colleges in a collegiate championship, helping out with communications at the Boston Marathon, maintaining local radio resources for use by students and organizations such as the Red Cross and the National Weather Service in times of need, and regular operations from our club station in Salisbury Labs.

Q: How many people are currently members of the WPI Wireless Association?
Ruggiero: Approximately 25.

Q: Is it true that WPI's club is one of the oldest in the nation?
Ruggiero: It is actually the third oldest college radio club in the nation. MIT was first and Harvard was second. But we were the first to actually have a station on the air, as MIT lacked the physical support for antennas.

Q: When was the WPI club established?
Ruggiero: In 1909. We were issued our first license in 1913, when the government began issuing licenses, and the callsign was 1YK, which is now W1YK. We became affiliated with the American Radio Relay League (http://www.arrl.org), the national organization of radio amateurs, in 1920.

Q: Why did you get involved in the WPI Wireless Association?
Ruggiero: I am involved because I have been interested in ham radio since I received my first license as a freshman in high school. I enjoy operating contests against other schools and amateurs. I enjoy helping the public by providing communications where I can, such as in parades, marathons and in times of emergency when normal communications are disrupted. I also enjoy maintaining the equipment associated with amateur communications. The best thing about wireless radio is the ability to pick up a microphone and have a random person from Kuwait or Australia start telling you about his day, all without having a wire between the two places.

Q: Does wireless radio still have a place in the computer age?
Ruggiero: Absolutely! Computers and the Internet are perfect compliments to amateur radio. The Internet allows the exchange of useful ideas and data, such as programs related to amateur radio for tracking amateur satellites and coordinating on-the-air activities such as the Jamboree On The Air. Computers are also used in amateur radio itself. For example, the WPI Wireless Association maintains a radio gateway for a service called APRS, the Automatic Position Reporting System. APRS stations use GPS units connected to radios to send location information. This information is received by radio and displayed on a map at the receiving station. In addition to being fun, the service has practical purposes. For example, it can be used to track supply vans in a marathon.

To find out more about the WPI Wireless Association, go to the Web page at http://www.wpi.edu/~wpiwa or contact Ruggiero at 508-831-6774 or by e-mail at n2yhk@wpi.edu. More information about JOTA can be found on the Web at http://www.arrl.org/ead under JOTA.

WPI, founded in 1865, is renowned for its project-based curriculum. Under the WPI Plan, students integrate classroom studies with research projects conducted on campus and around the world.