HAM radio imperative in Big Sur Marathon

Ham Radios used for Marathon

CARMEL, Calif. - You might think of HAM radios as primitive or obsolete these days, but for huge events like the Big Sur Marathon, they're actually essential.

Primitive? Sure, they've been around for over a century. Obsolete? Not in the slightest. Without HAM radios and their volunteer operators, communication during the Big Sur Marathon would be dangerously limited.

The Big Sur Marathon attracts thousands of runners and spectators from around the world to our beautiful coast, but once they're on the course, no one has cell phone reception. That's where HAM radios and their volunteer operators come into play.

"You just do it for the love of it," said volunteer HAM radio operator Lew Jenkins.

Jenkins has been a HAM radio operator and hobbyist for over 40 years, chatting with other operators all over the world.

"I talked to a guy off the coast of Madagascar couple nights ago in the Indian Ocean who happens to be on the exact other side of the Earth, so he's over 12-thousand miles away," said Jenkins.

But the old form of communication is used for more than a hobby. In Sunday's case, it will become a primary form of communication in an area with no cell reception.

"We'll put HAM's out at each one of the check points and they'll relay runner information, who the first three runners are or if there's emergencies at any time," said Jenkins.

Over the past four years, the California Office of Emergency Services has brought mobile satellites to help with modern communication during the marathon, but say that to this day, nothing is as reliable as the HAM is.

"It's been around forever I think and it's still in operation today because it's been so effective and it just gets better as it goes, especially with the operators," said Communications Coordinator with CAL OES Jeff Howell.

And without it, entirely new strategies would need to be produced to have events like the Big Sur Marathon.

"Well I think it would be roughly impossible without the HAM radio portion of it and the public safety portion of it cause you have the safety officers, the police and CHP but all the HAM radio operations would just have to have it," said Howell.

As for Jenkins, who volunteers for more than just the Big Sur Marathon, he wants to give back to his community by putting his old school hobby to use.

I've worked forest fires, the earthquakes, just every kind of public service thing where the emergency services were all in place but typically if it's big enough, there's nothing left but HAM. Our motto is when all else fails," said Jenkins.

Jenkins is just one of several HAM radio operators who will be volunteering their skills to help keep communication flowing during the Big Sur Marathon. The big race is set to begin this Sunday at 6:45 AM.

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