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Shortwave radio is finding a receptive young audience

July 25, 2009|Bob Pool

Other kids are consumed with cellphones, text messages and Tweets, e-mails and Facebook postings.

But 75 teenagers in Calabasas have become licensed amateur radio operators and hope to lead a new wave of shortwave enthusiasts.

For them, the image of the gray-haired ham radio hobbyist tinkering with capacitors, carrier frequencies and coaxial antenna cables is as old-fashioned as the dots and dashes of Morse code.

"I always thought that cellphones were the most reliable form of communication," said 16-year-old Trenton Gluck. "Everyone uses cellphones."

But one day four years ago, Gluck realized that pocket phones don't work when there's a power failure. Neither does the Internet. But battery-powered ham radios and solar-powered hilltop repeater stations do.

So the Calabasas youngster was all ears when science teacher Karl Beutel offered to teach A.C. Stelle Middle School eighth-graders basic radio principles and give them extra credit if they could pass the Federal Communication Commission's amateur radio license test.

Gluck was among 17 students to pass the FCC test that year.

Over the next three years, 57 others earned their licenses. There are plans to offer the two-day radio sequence again this coming school year.

Beutel, 33, of Agoura Hills, said he was motivated by the 1994 Northridge earthquake to become a licensed amateur radio operator.

He said he decided to work radio into his students' classroom instruction after fellow ham Norm Goodkin bemoaned the state's dropping references to electromagnetism from its eighth-grade physical sciences curriculum.

"We didn't go through any hoops. We just did it," Goodkin said of the curriculum upgrade. Goodkin, 65, is a computer project manager who lives in Calabasas and has been a ham radio hobbyist for 52 years. His wife, Naomi, jokes that she had to become a licensed amateur operator before Goodkin would marry her.

Other experienced hams say they welcome the youngsters. Mark Spencer, a Coleville, Calif., educator involved with the hams' American Radio Relay League, estimated that the average age of this country's 700,000 or so radio amateurs is about 59. "People who say it's a graying hobby are correct," he said.

Gluck said he was nervous when he first signed on after getting his license and his $180 radio.

"I heard all these adults talking and I thought, 'What will I say?' I've only told one person my age over the radio. But they can hear your voice and know you're young," he said.

Another Calabasas High senior, Eliana Levenson, 17, said she attempted last year to start a radio club at Calabasas High for alumni of Beutel's classes but was unable to find a teacher to sponsor it.

Many of the Calabasas teenagers say they had hoped to become active with an emergency communications network that serves their community and neighboring Topanga Canyon and Agoura Hills during brush fires or other disasters. But they have to be 18 to take part.

Levenson, Gluck and another senior, Miles Keijer, 17, of Bell Canyon, said they will try again this fall to launch a high school club that will serve as a follow-up to Beutel's middle school class and keep teens active on the air.

Keijer said they're hopeful the radio club idea gets a better reception this time around. He said he knows how to spread word of it to his classmates.

"I have a Twitter account. I text. I e-mail; I have nine e-mail accounts. I'm on MySpace and Facebook," Keijer said. "Everybody's on Facebook."

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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