JEROME• A bunch of boys huddled around an electronic device might hint at an Xbox, Sony Playstation or Nintendo as the center of attention.
But it wasn’t video gaming that brought dozens of Scouts to the KOA campground near Jerome on Saturday. It was ham radio.
“It’s cool,” said Kurtis Christensen, 9, after connecting with a ham operator on the other side of the country.
“I talked to a guy in Palm Coast, Fla.,” said Kurtis, a member of Cub Scout troop 104 in Twin Falls. “I told him I was a scout, and he said the weather was nice and sunny there and 75 degrees now.”
The event was part of an international Scouting event called Jamboree-on-the-Air. Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts from all over the world gathered around amateur radio sets to learn about ham radio and get acquainted with each other.
Members of the Magic Valley Amateur Radio Club helped the local scouts make the connection.
Cub Scout den mothers Leana Blackwood and Jill Turner brought six boys from three Twin Falls troops to the event. It was the boys’ first exposure to ham radio.
“They were really excited to come here,” Blackwood said.
Who knows? The brief introduction might spark a long-term interest in ham radio for some of the boys, she said.
Knowledgeable amateur radio enthusiasts made the event work.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” Blackwood said.
Members of the local radio club set up two ham radio stations for the scouts inside the KOA clubhouse. One was a traditional ham radio setup powered by a car battery as it might be in an emergency. The other station was connected to a laptop running a software program called EchoLink that makes amateur radio connections via computer.
At first glance, ham radio might seem like a throwback to another era, but that’s not the case, said Lee Schwindt, a member of the local radio club from Jerome.
“Ham radio has kept up with technology,” he said. “Now it’s a lot more simple, it’s a lot more efficient and it’s a lot more powerful.”
Schwindt took up ham radio in high school in 1964 with the encouragement of an electronics teacher. A few years later he served as a radioman during a two-year stint in the Navy.
On Saturday, he contacted fellow ham operators around the world from the mobile unit in his car.
“I just talked to a guy in Sweden and a guy in France,” he said.
Amateur radio operators have long provided vital communications during natural disasters.
They’ll be there again during the next crisis, whether it’s another natural disaster or an act of cyber terrorism, Schwindt said.
In the case of a cyber attack, people will not be able to access the Internet, he said.
“The first thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to lose the Internet,” Schwindt said. “We’ll provide a backup for that.”
State and local emergency management officials stay in close contact with ham radio operators and will depend on them when the time comes, he said.
“We try to work hand-in-hand with them,” Schwindt said. “They keep us in the loop.”