Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Calling All Ham Radio Operators


Last updated 1/19/2021 at 10:09am

Ernie Cowan

A lightweight portable radio can provide hikers with the ability to keep in touch with their group, or summon outside help in case of an emergency.

A new resident of Borrego Springs saw an article in the Borrego Sun a few months ago about the value of ham radio in a small, remote community.

Peter Morrison, with the call sign of KI7QBL, contacted me wondering if there was a ham radio club in town. With nearly three dozen licensed amateur radio operators in the 92004 Zip Code, it seems like it would be a good idea.

Morrison, who recently located here from Washington State is an active ham and recognizes how important amateur radio communications can be, especially in times of natural disasters when traditional sources of communication might be cut off.

Ham radio can also be mystifying to those newly licensed or considering becoming licensed. A local club could bel a focal point for information sharing, generating ideas for local communication systems, or just the fun of exploring the broad aspects of the hobby.

Just last month I was helping with the annual Christmas Bird Count in Collins Valley northwest of Borrego Springs. There is no cell service there, but with my small, handheld radio, I was able to stay in touch of my wife who is also a ham and was in Escondido.

I was alone, and had I experienced any kind of difficulty, I knew I could communicate with the outside world.

There are many places in the vast expanse of Anza-Borrego where communications may be non-existent. That could also happen right here in Borrego Springs if severe weather or a major earthquake impacts vital communication links.

Today's ham radio technology allows wilderness travelers or even homeowners to have inexpensive radios at their fingertips that will connect them to others in times of emergency.

Of course, ham radio is not only for emergencies. Using High Frequency radios, hams can that with other anyplace in the world and that can be both exciting and educational. Recently I contact another radio operator on the tiny island of Fernando de Noronha, located about 230 miles east of Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean.

I have made other interesting contact with amateur radio operators in Antarctica, Alaska, Siberia, and even a remote lighthouse off of Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Recently, I was out in the Borrego Badlands, with no cell service, but was able to talk with Morrison who was hiking to the waterfalls in Hellhole Canyon, also an area without cell service.

A lightweight portable ham radio can also allow hikers to keep track of their party, or provide a link to help if necessary.

In many isolated corners of the globe, ham radio is a lifeline when hurricanes, volcanos or earthquakes cut off communications with the outside world. Even in high-technology areas, amateur radio can provide a valuable service as a source for routine radio traffic, connecting families, or getting message to our military personnel serving in remote places when emergency radio frequencies are tied up.

But ham radio has been most important when help was needed, such as the time radio operators were able to summon help to the scene of a serious accident in a rural area of San Diego where there was no cell service, or the mountain biker who was able to get help for a friend who had crashed on a remote mountain trail.

Borrego Springs is subject to severe weather, power failures, and earthquakes and in such cases, hams would have the ability to reach out through radio repeaters located on Toro Peak, Laguna Mountain and Superstition Mountain near Brawley.

Some of the amateur radio repeaters on Toro are linked to other repeaters that would allow communications as far north as San Luis Obispo County and east to Yuma.

Amateur radio requires a license from the Federal Communication Commission. To get the license, you must study and pass a short test demonstrating a basic understanding of rules and regulations, radio theory and operating practices.

Once licensed, hams have access to a broad array of communications options from long-distance, worldwide contacts, local communications, satellite links, amateur television, and most importantly, emergency communications.

To get on the air, hams can purchase inexpensive handheld radios that are ideal for a backpack or invest in more powerful and expensive mobile or base stations for even more reliable communications. Of course, base station radios will require an external antenna, but the better antenna and additional power will improve your ability to reach distant stations.

Morrison is hoping others in Borrego Springs might be interesting in establishing a local ham radio club. A name, Borrego Radio Amateur Membership Society (RAMS) has also been suggested. Just imagine the logo possibilities!

If you are interested, let us know. Send your contact information to

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