REDDING – Michael VanCleemput is ham radio operator who makes friends through the frequencies, and would like to do so more frequently.
The 80-year-old Vietnam-era veteran and resident of the Veterans Homes of California-Redding is looking for a few good men and women to converse with over the amateur radio airwaves. He is issuing an invitation to like-minded veterans living at CalVet’s seven other Veterans Homes to join him over the airwaves. In essence, he’d like to build a network of ham operators through CalVet’s Veterans Homes system.
“That’s my dream,” VanCleemput said.
Ham is the nickname for amateur radio, which allows people from all over the world to communicate via old-school wireless technology made famous and feasible by Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi in 1901. By 1914, the American Radio Relay League had established a series of relay stations that enabled communications over long distances.
While the telephone, satellites, cables, fiber optics and other technologies emerged to make communications more instantaneous, ham radio operators maintain a love for their hobby. The irony? If the Internet, cellular phone and other high-tech communications systems fail due to disasters or hackers, the ham operators will still be able to communicate while others will be staring at their iPhones, Androids, PCs and Macs (think the recent Facebook crash).
“We can operate on batteries, solar panels and wind power,” VanCleemput said. “[A ham radio is] simple. It doesn’t take a lot of power.”
He was introduced to ham radio in 2016, and soon found himself immersed in the hobby, mentored by members of the ham radio club in the Redding area. They coached him on how to become licensed, and helped by donating equipment including an antenna to get him up and running at the Veterans Home.
“There’s been tremendous support from the ham radio community,” VanCleemput said.
He’s connected with ham operators in New Zealand, Slovenia, the Caribbean island of Montserrat, Canada, Mexico and British Columbia. He’s chatted with veterans at the federal VA facility in Loma Linda, which began its ham radio program in 2011.
What VanCleemput hasn’t done thus far, however, is to gab with veterans from CalVet’s other homes. That could change soon, though, as some veterans at the Ventura and Yountville homes have indicated they are, as you might say, “receptive” to the idea, according to staff at those homes.
“We can get them on the radio.” VanCleemput added. “I heard a 96-year-old ham operator talking like a scientist. We could do special events on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. There are lots of activities on those days.”
If ham radio associations in other areas are anything like the one in Redding, he said, they, too, would help jump-start operations and mentor veterans who wish to partake.
“There are ham communities in all the places that have (veterans) Homes,” VanCleemput said. They are great, he said, about helping prospective radio buffs study for the licensing exams and learn the intricacies of amateur radio.
It’s all about making friends through the frequencies, with greater frequency. To that end, VanCleemput would like nothing more than to create a signal corps of veterans across the eight Veterans Homes of California.