AS PEOPLE GO about their days, from home to work to the grocery store to the gym, they pass by emblems belonging to unknown worlds. Spray-painted lines on the street, colored handkerchiefs hanging out of pockets, SKU codes printed on tags — all of these markers are imbued with meaning, though far less so to the uninitiated eye. Among such symbols is the call sign. Composed of five characters, a mix of numbers and letters, it’s generally seen stamped on a license plate of a car topped with multiple antennas. If it’s a
vanity call sign, the sequence not only indicates the owner’s geographical base but also often the person’s initials. And
it means the individual driving the car is likely an amateur radio operator, one whose power to send a message could
potentially save your life if other forms of communication go down.
Who enjoys operating radios? “There are currently about 2,000 licensed ham radio operators in Marin County,” says
Michael Fischer, public service representative of the Marin Amateur Radio Society (MARS). Its motto? “When all else
fails,” referring to the ability to communicate beyond the cloud. “There are also more operators today than ever before,”
Fischer adds. In 2007, the FCC eliminated a Morse code requirement for an amateur, or ham, license. That opening, plus
the relatively low cost of equipment and the rise of the maker culture, spurred many newcomers to join the ranks. But for
some operators, it’s a passion they’re born with. “When the Point Reyes National Seashore gave us permission to begin our
project it was like giving the keys to the inmates,” says Richard Dillman, president and co-founder of the Maritime Radio
Historical Society. Along with Dillman, a core group of about six have restored KPH — the Marconi/RCA transmitting
Radio operators throughout the county use invisible electromagnetic
energy to send and receive messages.
BY KASIA PAWLOWSKA • PHOTOS BY RON POZNANSKY