Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club has record licensing numbers this year with 58 students licensed to operate HAM radio. Courtesy Photo.

Amateur Radio Club may just, in simple terms, “play with radios,” according club president Marcel Steiber, but students are playing with radios in record numbers — after years of membership ups and downs.

Every quarter Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club provides the exam for HAM radio licensing, which is used for operating radios in everything from major earthquakes to local bike races. This quarter it helped 58 students obtain licenses. Last year’s fall quarter session resulted in 38 licenses, a San Luis Obispo record at the time.

A basic license takes six 45-minute sessions to acquire. The Cal Poly club bases its method off w6nbc.com, which led club efforts last year and left the them with the tools to teach and test on its own. The license opens up opportunities for emergency communications, senior projects and community service.

“I just pumped out a press release this weekend,” call sign 2KI6QDJ Marcel Steiber said. “And the HAM radio community is starting to talk about how many people are going ‘We need (your help).’”

Larger numbers can be attributed to advertisements recommending freshmen obtain licenses, Steiber said. But while many may be joining as a “resume stuffer,” the increased involvement means the club can increase participation in the community.

“Bigger numbers mean we can do a lot more stuff,” Steiber said. “The more people we have organizing events the more events we can do.”

The club manages the campus’s emergency communications systems and provides a form of communication at community events where cell phone reception is poor or unavailable. The club helped to provide full communication, including calls between race organizers and emergency dispatching, for the Templeton Chamber of Commerce Wine and Roses Bike Ride on Oct. 9.

The largest event the club assists with is the Wildfire Triathlon, managing roughly 300 handheld radios, 30 mobile radios, 20 GPS trackers in course vehicles and the dispatch center. They also traditionally work with the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club on a number of its events.

Club member Jeff Lewis said helping with events is a fun and rewarding experience.

“Volunteering for the events is really exciting,” Lewis said. “It’s interesting because you get to play with technical things, but you’re also doing a volunteer support position.”

Amateur Radio Club hasn’t always been in such a constructive position. The club is the second oldest on campus at 63-years-old but at a presentation for the club’s first meeting, Steiber and the adviser both mentioned “ups and downs.”

Club adviser Dan Malone said student participation has been inconsistent in the past.

“We were down to one member at one time,” Malone said. “I know Marcel has been working really hard over three years at membership and it shows.”

Cal Poly’s Amateur Radio Club is now one of the top two largest in the nation along with the Rochester Institute of Technology’s. Neither takes official membership — whoever wants to join can — so the top ranking club is unknown. Through a website called CollegeARC, Cal Poly and RIT help other amateur radio clubs through the hard process of getting up and running.

“I see the club having the active membership as one of the big (goals),” Malone said. “But also hopefully starting to be involved in the campus emergency planning. We do a whole lot of planning on our part and the campus does a whole lot, but there’s not a lot of coordination between us. I’d like to see that happen.”

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