The first time Buzz Kutcher sat for his amateur radio license, he did not pass. Now he is president of the Butts County Amateur Radio Club and has many awards under his belt. He is also the ham emergency coordinator for Butts County.
Kutcher got involved in the amateur radio world in the 1980s while living in York, Pa. He first talked on ham radio as a child. A family friend known as uncle Jack was “the first ham I ever met. I took a class with my high school friend Barry. He passed and I didn’t,” Kutcher said.
Both of them were Kutcher’s “Elmer’s,” or mentors, Kutcher said. “You Elmer people and the hobby grows. There’s a big social aspect,” Kutcher said. “It’s a heck of a lot of fun. I’ve been a ham everywhere I’ve lived.”
Buzz and Frieda Kutcher came to Jenkinsburg in 2004, via South Carolina through his job at Caterpillar.
“There were clubs in York and Sumter, S.C., but there was no organization here,” he said. “There are a lot of people who deserve credit for getting things started here.”
The fledgling group set up a ham radio communications network for Butts County after being contacted by Butts County Emergency Services Director Glen Goens about the Citizens Emergency Response Team. The mounted search and rescue group wanted to convert from family to amateur radios.
In 2010, two Ham Crams were organized for CERT soon after the Butts County club was formed. This week, five students are upgrading from technical to general licenses and two are taking the general class. Kutcher hopes several people with technical licenses will want to upgrade.
“Our group started because we realized we’d gotten them licensed but they didn’t know anything about the hobby,” he said. “We met regularly for Elmering sessions. Those brought the group up to about 30 but none are active anymore except Glen. We’ve picked up a lot of people since. If there’s an emergency, we can muster enough people to help out.”
There are ham radio stations at Sylvan Grove Hospital and the 911 center. The club is working on getting one at the Butts County Health Department in 2016.
“We can talk to all the fire stations, the sheriff’s office and emergency shelters,” he said. “When there’s no infrastructure available, we provide backup communications.”
Amateur radio communications go further. Kutcher has talked to people as far away as New Zealand using as little as 5 watts of power.
“It takes a different radio to talk over distance but they work together as a system,” he said. “My station at home is typical. From Jenkinsburg I can talk to people all over the world. I can see where my signal is being received.”
A small radio once took up the whole desk in an earlier incarnation, he said. “Technology has progressed since 1971 but you can still pick up a mic and talk,” Kutcher said.
Equipment can be bought as a set or, as Kutcher did, one piece at a time. He has radios for maritime communications, emergency channels, a Morse code unit and a laptop for digital communications.
“When I started I didn’t have voice privileges. I was limited to Morse,” he said. “That was novice class. They don’t have that anymore. I upgraded to technician class in York. To get a general license you had to key in 13 words a minute in Morse, then doors opened and you could talk to people. The code is still very much a part of the hobby but it’s not required for licensing anymore.”
Kutcher has done plenty talking since getting that license. While in South Carolina, he got an award for talking to stations in every state.
Last year, Kutcher received the 2015 Jack Hobbs Award for Amateur Radio from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
He has also won an award for talking to people in 100 countries.
“I’m up to about 170 countries now,” he said. “I work as many frequencies as possible. I’ve made good, long-lasting friends all over the world.”
Distance radio promotes and supports long-distance communications. North Korea is currently on the top of the “most wanted” list for long distance communication.
“Hams will go to islands or countries with no capability, set up and give people like me all over the world a chance to talk to them. Palmyra Island and South Georgia Island will be up in a couple of weeks. In a lifetime, it may be once or twice these places get activated,” he said.
County hunters seek hams in each county of a state. Awards are given for this, too. There are contests for specific frequencies or operations modes, and field days like the one the club held last spring in Jackson.
“There’s something for everybody,” he said.
There are also conversation competitions called QSOs. Kutcher works that one and the Pennsylvania Party QSO every year, talking to friends who gave him a lifetime membership when he moved away.
“Elaine Stachowiak worked the Georgia QSO and cleaned our clocks,” Kutcher said. “She’s one of our instructors. She got our Blue Pig award this year and now is the station to beat.”
The Blue Pig is a piggy bank adorned with the names of all its winners. It is given out at the club Christmas party.
“I may never see that pig again,” Kutcher said.