BACK BAY NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE — Bob Murray of Kempsville hurt his back about 15 years ago, which led him to a passion for amateur – or ham – radio.
“I was laid up, and somebody told me about it,” said Murray, who is now retired from Dominion Energy.
Since then, he’s gotten serious, collecting equipment that makes him a battery-powered, mobile communication hub — and putting skill and gear to the test.
On Sunday, Jan. 27, he headed to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where he set up not far from a wildlife observation blind. He worked from inside his car on a chilly afternoon.
An antenna stood tall near his truck. He and others have communicated, often “registering” parks by setting up there for the first time. It was his first time at the refuge, though it had been registered before.
He reached many other ham radio operators that day, making contacts with people in parks, part of an effort called Parks on the Air. It promotes awareness about communication capabilities of portable radio operators in state and national parks, according to its website.
While others hiked at the refuge and took a gander at nearby tundra swans, Murray spoke to folks in several U.S. states and even Canada.
“Last weekend, it was so nice I went to the Princess Anne Wildlife Management area,” said Murray, operating over the radio as K4YOU.
That one, he registered.
At Back Bay, he made calls and logged connections including a signal report – how well those on the other end are coming in. His log included Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, New York, Wisconsin and more. Twenty-two in all.
“Last week, I did 51 calls,” Murray said. “It’s really practice.”
Amateur radio can be an important communication tool in an emergency. Additionally, radio operators also serve community events such as the Pungo Strawberry Festival, helping communications during the parade.
Murray is a member of the Virginia Beach Amateur Radio Club. The radio lets people speak with folks across the U.S. and beyond, getting to know those on the other end a little bit.
“I know your wife has been sick or the dog is pregnant,” Murray noted. “Or the dog is sick and your wife is pregnant.”
And it’s just fun.
“Just me and my battery,” he said. “I think that’s pretty awesome.”
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