Amateur Radio Community

The author discovered a strong amateur radio community was already in place when Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980.

| September/October 1980

  • 065 copthorne macdonald - 1980
    Copthorne Macdonald, the inventor of slow-scan television, was a powerful advocate for amateur radio and an active participant in the amateur radio community.
  • 065 amateur radio community
    Allen Negrin and MOTHER EARTH NEWS' own Copthorne Macdonald the day Mount Saint Helens blew.

  • 065 copthorne macdonald - 1980
  • 065 amateur radio community

At about 8:45 a.m. on Sunday, May 18th the shock wave from the Mount Saint Helens eruption reached Washington state's San Juan Island. To Allen Negrin, sitting in his cabin atop the island's highest hill, the explosion sounded a bit like the muted rumble of distant thunder.

However, Allen suspected that Mt. St. Helens might be acting up ... so he switched on his wind-powered ham rig. Turning to 3987 kHz—the frequency used by the Mt. St. Helens Emergency Service Net—he discovered that the mountain had indeed blown its top. The news had just been announced—from a perch on the volcano's side—by observer-communicator Gerry Martin (W6TQF).

(Tragically, no more has been heard from Gerry. As I write this column several days after the event, he is still missing and presumed dead.)

Also at 8:45 a.m., some 45 miles to the north of Allen's cabin, Beth and Bruce Proctor and I were boarding the first of two ferries that would carry us to San Juan Island. During an on-the-air conversation a couple of weeks earlier, Allen (WA7CGD) had invited us to pitch our tent for a night or two on his 40 acres and observe the area's hawks and eagles.

We arrived about 2 p.m. and spent much of the afternoon in a reflective mood, watching the continued course of the incredible natural event on Allen's 12-volt TV set and listening to reports over the emergency net. Of course, the eruption was also the main topic of conversation during that evening's West Coast New Directions Roundtable and in the wider amateur radio community. It served to remind us all that the unthinkable really does happen at times.

A West Coast Report

My visit with Allen is just one example of the many fascinating meetings I've had with West Coast NDR folks during the past few weeks. I hadn't traveled through the west in six years ... since New Directions Radio was brand new. Back in 1974, I wrote of the exciting sense of promise I felt during that last visit. I'm glad to say that this year's trip left me with a feeling of promise realized, and of possibility turned into actuality. On the West Coast, alternative ham radio has clearly passed out of its childhood struggles and come of age!


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