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Celebrating its 70th anniversary: Shenandoah Valley Amateur Radio Club draws ‘hams’ of all ages

Shenandoah Valley Amateur Radio Club members John Kanode, 80, of Boyce, and the club's newest members Audrey Strite, 2, left, and her sister Meghann,11, sit inside the radio room at the Shenandoah Valley Amateur Radio Club's facility at 2921 Grace St., Winchester. Kanode is the club's oldest member and the Strite sisters are the youngest. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Shenandoah Valley Amateur Radio Club. Formed in 1948, the club was chartered as a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement and enjoyment of amateur radio. While the club continues to remain active, the association looks to further expand by roping in locals of all ages looking to be “hams.”

One of the oldest members, John Kanode, 80, of Boyce, encountered his first ham radio in 1946 after World War II when his father purchased their first family radio.

“You couldn’t buy radios during the war,” Kanode said. “Because they weren’t available.”

Kanode recalled listening to radio shows on WINC and occasionally overheard police calls where he said he remembers hearing “calls that had letters in them.” It intrigued him so much, that he decided to visit the local radio repair shop in Washington, D.C., to learn more about what he was overhearing over those radio waves.

“Mr. Grim, our radio shop repairman, explained to me that the officers were ham radio operators,” Kanode said. “He further explained that I would have to learn morse code, but at 9 or 10 years old, I didn’t fully understand what I was getting into.”

Shenandoah Valley Amateur Radio Club member Gary Fortum, of Stephens City, stands outside the ham radio group's clubhouse. The group has been in this location since 1954. Rich Cooley/Daily

Fast forward a few years and Kanode, along with longtime friend and club member Sam Long, 79, of Winchester, become ham radio operators. Over the years both men said they’ve witnessed the change in technology along with monumental moments like the first two-way contact via the moon and the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

“It’s a way to speak to the world in various languages and ways,” Long said. “Whether they prefer talking into a microphone, interacting with their radios or through more modern technology, we all have an interest in what’s going on in and around the world.”

And they use the radio to reach out.

Some people are attracted by the ability to communicate locally or across the world, like Audrey, 12, and Meghann Strite, 11, of Stephens City, who are the youngest members of the ham radio group. What started as a family hobby through their father has encouraged the sisters to pursue their licenses.  

Meghann said she enjoys being a ham operator because it allows her to communicate with family members who don’t live in the vicinity.

“I am excited to make contact with various countries around the world. We have a map up on the wall that shows where my dad has communicated with. I can’t wait to put my own colored pins up,” she added.

Audrey noted: “Being a ham radio operator is more than just communicating with family and friends. Sometimes they can be used during national emergencies like hurricanes.”

Over the past 20 years, ham radio operators have provided emergency communications during major events including the Oklahoma City Bombing, wildfires in Colorado, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and more recently Hurricane Maria that devastated the island of Puerto Rico.

Kanode said: “Ham’s – the nickname for ham radio operators – enjoy knowing they can get a message out in almost any situation. We volunteer where we’re most needed when communication systems are destroyed.”

Sandy Bowen, of Stephens City, said one of her most memorable ham radio moments was when a call came over that an individual in her area was having a heart attack. Unable to get to a phone to call 9-1-1, her neighbor used his ham radio to put out a distress call, which Bowen said she heard.

“Without a ham radio, it’s quite possible that individual would have died,” Bowen said. “No matter the situation or scenario, being a ham operator has its many advantages.”

Meghann and Audrey said they both hope to build their stations over time. But for now, they’re learning with the support of their elders in the club.

Bowen said: “It’s refreshing to have such young blood back in our group. Being an amateur radio ham takes science, service and skill –  something both of these girls have. It’s been quite the enjoyment to watch them excel so quickly.”

The sisters said they hope they can use their knowledge to aid in recovery efforts during emergencies, but for right now both are content with communicating with local friends and family members.

The Shenandoah Valley Amateur Radio Clubs holds regular meetings at 7:30 p.m. on the first and third Thursday of each month. The clubhouse is located at 2921 Grace St., Winchester.

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