It’s like something out of a war story from the past — a man sends Morse code messages to let people know he’s alive in the worst of times.
It wasn’t years ago though. It was just under a month ago, Sept. 11, the day after Category 4 Hurricane Irma passed over the Florida Keys and wiped out most forms of communication with the outside world.
But there was one method to get information out that worked every time: Ham radio.
A message from a Big Pine Key man to his girlfriend, who evacuated with their young daughter and was waiting to hear how he weathered the storm, was one of about 80 sent out over the airwaves by ham radio enthusiast Chet Hogue in the days following Irma’s destruction. He sent messages all over the world from the Lower Keys using his ham radio, and those messages were relayed to friends and loved ones of people in the Keys who had no way to communicate.
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Hogue, a charter boat captain and Summerland Key resident, stayed in the Lower Keys with friends during the storm but set up two ham radio stations, one there and one on Big Pine Key.
“Two days after the storm, I went back to my boat on Big Pine and operated there for the next five or six days,” he said. “What happens in disaster situations like this, ahead of time there are some pre-published frequencies.”
One frequency was used for relaying only weather-related information and the other was used for passing messages, he said. Those two frequencies became very busy, so he used Morse code on other frequencies to relay messages clearly.
“I was able to be in contact with people across the country and around the world,” Hogue told the Keynoter.
Just before dusk and about two hours after sunset, Hogue would send messages out that he gathered from locals trying to get in touch with friends and family. He communicated with a man in New Zealand and one at the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, Calif., among others.
Hogue said if it weren’t for his ham radio hobby, he wouldn’t have been able to help all those people. He urges those interested to become involved with ham radio to visit www.arrl.org.
“It’s just neat,” he said. “This system, with a piece of wire and a car battery, you can talk around the world.”
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219