Meet Jeff Hanscom & Chuck Liebow: Ham Radio Operators that let their fingers do the talking

Jeff Hanscom, a resident from Bar Harbor, still gets excited when he hears someone on the other end of the line of his Ham Radio.

Engineering Technician

Jeff is an engineering technician at Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor. Jeff first began experimenting with ham radios 40 years ago. As a 15-year-old boy, he was simply captivated by the idea of being able to transmit a message that could instantly be received and heard anywhere on the globe.

Magic

“It was like magic to me,” Hanscom said. “It was just the excitement of being able to take a simple radio signal, send out a signal and be able to contact somebody who’s hundreds or thousands of miles away from you.”

Jeff Hanscom

1980

Now at the age of 56, Jeff is still just as fascinated about the hobby as he was back in 1980. Jeff is just one of many Downeast residents who can be found over the airwaves these days by fellow ham radio enthusiasts the world over.

Amateur Radio Stations


Ham radio operators use amateur radio stations to communicate with one another via two-way transmissions. Instead of broadcasting for commercial purposes, these operators take to the airwaves for personal enjoyment while testing, experimenting or competing.

Exam

In order for a person to be allowed to operate over airwaves, they are required to pass an exam to become licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. After they pass the exam, they are then assigned a call sign composed of several letters and numbers that provide them with unique identities over the airwaves.

Chuck Liebow

Pictured: Chuck Liebow on his mobile unit. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHUCK LIEBOW.

Chuck Liebow is a licensed captain who drives the Beal & Bunker mailboat between Northeast Harbor and the Cranberry Isles. He has been a licensed ham radio operator for three years. He has setups, in his Trenton home, on the vessel Sea Queen and even in his 2012 Hyundai Elantra via an antenna attached near the car’s rear.

Portable QCX Receiver

When captaining the mailboat, Liebow uses a portable QCX receiver with a 40-meter band that’s strong enough to make contact with ham radio users up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Although, at home, Chuck has a much larger, more advanced, setup that can reach as far as Australia, Alaska and Hawaii.

“When I’m out there on the water, I need something for my fingers to do,” Liebow said. “I put a ham stick on the antenna, run a wire in and see who I can contact. … Between that and what I’ve got at home, there’s probably nowhere in the world where I couldn’t find a friend.”

Chuck Liebow

Cards

After a Ham Radio Operator makes contact with another, Hancock Radio operators exchange small cards or slips of paper with each person’s call sign. The cards are known as QSL cards. They contain the time and date of contact as well as the frequency and mode of communication used.

Chuck, has an entire binder full of QSL cards he’s received from operators all over the world. His call sign is AC1BS.

Pictured here: Chuck Liebow showing off his binder full of QSI cards. PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

DX Century Club

Jeff Hanscom, with the call sign KA1DBE, recently became a member of the DX Century Club after establishing contact with users in 100 different countries.

“You’ve got all sorts of competitions to try and get cards for every state or every country and everything like that,” Jeff said. “People are courteous enough to send them most of the time, and it’s fun to see how many different places you can get.”

Jeff Hanscom

Multiple Ways to Be Transmitted

Ham radio messages can be transmitted through multiple ways including: voice, text, imaging or even Morse code.

Although it is no longer required by the FCC to be proficient in Morse code, that form of communication is still fairly popular in the amateur radio community.

“The beauty of Morse code is that the community is so gracious,” Liebow said. “If you can only do five words per minute, they will slow down to your speed so you can understand. I’m not too bad at sending it, but I’m not very good at hearing it, so that’s very helpful.”

Chuck Liebow

A Hobby with a Flexible Price

Operating a Ham Radio as a hobby can be as cheap or expensive as an operator likes. For example, Liebow’s QCX kit cost him $49, but prices vary and the costs can rise to hundreds and even thousands of dollars for those who buy high-end rigs or spend time maintaining multiple shacks.

“The sky’s the limit in terms of where you want to go in terms of expense,” Liebow said. “You can build an antenna yourself using a simple wire, or you can go into the towers yourself and spend $4,000-5,000. It’s whatever you want to make it.”

Chuck Liebow

Ellsworth Amateur Wireless Association

Many local ham radio operators are members of the Ellsworth Amateur Wireless Association. Jeff Hanscom is president and Chuck Liebow is the vice president.

The organization has roughly 60 members, including Andrew Sankey, executive director for the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency, as well as former Ellsworth Police Department Detective Dotty Small and her husband, Richard.

English

Although the preferred language of communication amongst ham radios is English , Even in faraway locations, there’s almost no subject that’s too taboo. As long as conversations steer clear of “religion, politics and sex,” it’s typically fine.

“I think one of the best parts is just connecting with people and just learning about them,” Hanscom said. “You have these conversations and learn about each other, and you find out that you have a lot in common and that you’re going through a lot of the same things in life.”

Jeff Hanscom