At first, the idea of talking on a ham radio seems almost primitive.

Yet there on Tuesday afternoon was Steve Smith, fiddling with the radio dial while volunteering at the Rochester DX Association's display table at the Rochester Museum & Science Center.

"He's trying to talk to someone in South Africa," said Ben Stewart, a fellow Rochester DX Association (RDXA) member.

Um, isn't that what Skype is for?

Maybe not. Even in this age of ever-evolving communication methods and devices, old-fashioned amateur radio frequencies are still useful and popular.

"Radio evolves with society," said Stewart, who lives in Honeoye Falls.

That's the message the ham radio group is sharing this week during the Holiday Science and Technology Days at RMSC.

Several scientists, hobbyists and organizations are providing hands-on activities and demonstrations at various booths for children and their parents.

"Our whole goal is to show kids that science can be cool," said Mike Maiorino of Rochester.

Maiorino was impressing kids by demonstrating what air pressure can do in a vacuum.

"They all start with the attitude, 'So what?' and then you show them the strength of air pressure and then they're 'Wow,'" he said.

The ham radio operators want RMSC visitors to know that what they do can be engaging, informative and also very helpful. Such as, during the attack on the World Trade Center, cellular communication and emergency communication channels were disabled when the towers collapsed. Amateur radio operators provided a means of communications.

"We're not confined to one frequency and we can operate off batteries, so we can find a way to get a message through," Smith said.

A license is required — a general knowledge of radio operations should get you through the test — and you also need a radio. Among the things to learn for the test: etiquette, FCC regulations and abbreviations such as QRZ (call me) or QTH (location).

"We were abbreviating things long before people were texting 'LOL,'" Ben Stewart said.

In Rochester, radio clubs help with the pumpkin patrol (watching highway overpasses on Halloween), Lilac Festival and are even included in the county's civil defense plans, said Doug Stewart, Ben's dad.

Or, members just chat with a group of friends on their own channel, or bounce around the world to see who's looking to talk.

"We're trying to get the word out," Doug said, "that you can talk to people around the world, not need electricity and not use the Internet or pay Verizon or AT&T."


Text: Kevin Oklobzija

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