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In the Pipeline: Ham radio to the rescue

January 25, 2012|By Chris Epting

A recent headline on Reuters read: "Subculture of Americans prepares for civilization's collapse." The subsequent story documented a subculture of Americans who refer to themselves as "preppers." As the story stated, "Some are driven by a fear of imminent societal collapse, others are worried about terrorism, and many have a vague concern that an escalating series of natural disasters is leading to some type of environmental cataclysm."

I saw this story the day after I met Don Daily, 73, in the parking lot at the Bolsa Chica wetlands. For the past several months, I'd noticed a red van parked in the far corner of the lot in the morning when I took my walk. More noticeable, however, was a strange-looking, 40-foot antenna reaching up into the sky, attached to the van, resembling a sort of reverse Christmas tree shape.

The tower elicited glares and stares from many in the parking lot, and so one day when I saw a man in a black watch cap tinkering with the base of the tower, I stopped to talk to him. This was my introduction to Daily.

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"I'm a spy for the FBI!" he laughed when I introduced myself. Evidently, more than one person has asked Daily what he's up to, and that's become his joke reply. People also ask him if he's monitoring bird activity.

But, as he will explain, he co-designed this interesting tower structure, and he is no more than a very motivated ham (or amateur) radio enthusiast who is concerned that whenever some form of societal interruption hits, people will no longer be able to communicate. "Ham radio to the rescue!" he chuckled once more.

Daily told me he was set up 20 years ago in this very same spot with a monstrous 120-foot antenna tower, conducting tests as he does today. "I'm trying to improve this antenna out here," he said seriously. "I talk all over the world each day to people, then log all of the averages to measure how the antenna is working. Conditions vary each day due to sun spot cycles, but I learn more each day about the tower's effectiveness."

The former electrical mechanical maintenance engineer is joined most mornings by an old high school chum, Mike McCurdy, who meets Daily before dawn to set the tower up and often sticks around until about 9 p.m. to help dismantle it.

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