Embers installs ‘ham shack’ for short-wave operator

Tom Morgan of Marshalltown may be the envy of every short-wave radio operator in Iowa.

Morgan, 81, a short-wave or “ham” radio enthusiast much of his life, has use of three operating stations with a 500- watt amplifier in a comfortable ham shack at the Embers Retirement Community.

And that is not all.

On the roof is a new antenna, which Morgan said can be pointed optimally for contact.

“It is highly directional; if you want to speak to someone in Europe, you would point it to the east, northeast,” Morgan said. “If you wanted to speak to someone in the south, you point it in a southerly direction.”

Morgan, Vicki Bogner, Embers director and staff, have been celebrating the opening of the ham shack recently.

Ham shack is slang for a place where short-wave radio operators hang out.

Morgan and Bogner were quick to explain the ham shack and equipment were all made possible by Brad Lee, of Phoenix.

Lee is an avid short-wave radio operator and CEO of Trilogy-Embers, the company that owns Embers and a number of other retirement centers in the United States.

“Brad picked up interest in short-wave from his father,” Bogner said. “He started installing ham shacks in his Phoenix properties for residents when he learned some who had been ham operators in their homes had given up the hobby after moving in to one of his properties.”

Morgan, a Clemson, S.C. native knew he wanted to become an electrical engineer at age 12, he said.

That created an interest in electronics, which led to a fulfilling, professional career.

He discovered short-wave shortly thereafter.

A neighbor had a ham radio system, and, seeing him use it created an interest that hasn’t waned despite the passage of time.

Beginning in the 1950s, Morgan embarked on building his own short-wave radios.

“Back in the day, you could go to a radio parts store and scrounge from television sets and pick up parts and build them,” he said. “But nowadays, you can buy a self-contained receiver and transmitter, which operates on all modes. You look inside, and it appears to resemble the insides of a computer … with microchips and printed circuits. One couldn’t begin to build a newer piece of equipment. I think you could buy something like this for approximately $1,500.”

With the ham shack open for business, Morgan is extremely eager to share his hobby with fellow residents and others.

However, an operator must get a license.

Regardless, he and other short-wave aficionados in the area are willing to help interested parties earn one.

A club which meets at RACOM of Marshalltown, helped Morgan prepare for his licensing renewal and will also proctor exams.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to take that exam at RACOM versus having to drive to Des Moines or elsewhere,” Morgan said.

The conversation returned to the newly outfitted ham shack and equipment.

“Embers spared no horses in getting the ham shack up and running,” Morgan said.

“This, (ham shack) is all part of our efforts to engage residents in a variety of activities,” Bogner said. “We’ve installed putting greens and a movie theater over the years, among other amenities. We know our residents like to be active.”