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Osakis man connects with 330 countries

Amateur (HAM) radio brings people, electronics and communication together. From talking over the airwaves to using Morse code, HAM radio allows the message to get through when other forms of communication, such as Internet and telephones, are down. (Annie Harman | Echo Press)1 / 3
Wayne Johanson of Osakis calls out to Luxembourg on his amateur (HAM) radio equipment. Luxembourg is one of 340 countries that has access to HAM radio. Johanson has connected to 330. (Annie Harman | Echo Press) 2 / 3
Wayne Johanson’s radio tower sits in his yard at his Osakis home. The tower allows him to connect not only with people all over the world, but also with astronauts on the International Space Station. (Annie Harman | Echo Press)3 / 3

Long before the days of Internet chatrooms, people were still capable of speaking to strangers from the other side of the world.

Wayne Johanson of Osakis has spoken to people in 330 different countries through the power of amateur radio.

Amateur, or “ham” radio, is a way to communicate over airwaves.

“Amateur radio operators are people just like you and me,” Johanson explained. “They are anybody that has an interest in talking to people on their street, their block, in their town, their state, the U.S. and the world.”

Comparable to talking on the phone, Johanson explained that HAM radio has allowed him and others to learn about life around the world.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Johanson first became interested in ham radio when he was just a kid.

In 1962, as a 17-year-old Osakis high school junior, he buckled down and got licensed in Gordon Township. To get licensed, he had to learn Morse code at five words a minute and pass an electronics test.

From that point forward, he was given the call WA0EBZ, which he said is the same as his name over the air.

That first license was good for one year, but Johanson decided to upgrade to a general class license before it expired.

His newfound hobby as a ham operator led Johanson to pursue a degree in electrical engineering, which in turn landed him a job at 3M. At that point, he was set on a path that would make his fun pastime a much bigger part of who he is.

CALL TO PUBLIC SERVICE

On July 18, 1970, Johanson was contacted by the local police.

“The city of Miltona had been completely wiped out by a tornado,” he said. “This was before cell phones; and all phone and power lines were down. The city was a disaster.”

As a member of the Amateur Radio Emergency Services, the police asked Johanson if he could take his equipment to Miltona and set up until telephone service was restored.

After setting, Johanson was quickly in touch with the National Guard, American Red Cross, Civil Defense and the Weather Bureau.

“The biggest thing was reporting on health and welfare,” Johanson said. “It was truly the first time I had used my ham radio experience for emergency services.”

Johanson stayed in Miltona and in communication with the other agencies for 24 hours until St. Cloud was reached for more relief.

Since that day, Johanson developed a deeper appreciation and love for his hobby.

“This is the side I’m more passionate about,” he said of the public service opportunities.

Since the Miltona incident, Johanson has answered the call to public service on multiple occasions, including the 1994 Northridge, California earthquake, the 2009 floods in Fargo/Moorhead, and the 2010 Wadena tornado.

He also volunteers as the emergency radio operator in Long Prairie and assisted in setting up emergency amateur radio equipment in Todd County and for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

“Everything is volunteer; ham operators are not allowed to receive a penny,” Johanson said. “It’s a thank you to the community for all the times they’ve been there for us.”

 

THE FUN SIDE

While the public service aspect of being a ham radio operator is Johanson’s true passion, he admits that the fun side of it is equally as exciting.

“It’s a hobby that intrigues me the same amount today as it did 50 years ago,” he said with a grin. “You never know who or where you’re going to speak with.”

Because of his love for ham radio, Johanson was one of the driving forces to develop an Amateur Radio Week in Minnesota. After working with the vice president of 3M at the time and writing a proclamation, Governor Wendell Anderson declared the first Minnesota Amateur Radio Week to be October 1-7 in 1972.

Today, Johanson flips on his equipment and searches for someone to connect. He holds hope that he might find one of the remaining countries to check off his list.

Currently 340 countries have access to ham radio. Johanson has connected to all but 10. The remaining countries include places such as Yemen, Somalia, Bangladesh, Palestine and North Korea.

Johanson has chatted over the airwaves with King Hussein of Jordan and with Astronaut Owen Garriott while he was stationed on the International Space Station.

Johanson is currently the president of the Runestone Amateur Radio Club based out of Alexandria. The club, which has been in existence since 1936, has 24 members residing in four different counties.

“It’s been a fun life with HAM radio,” Johanson said with a smile. “You hear everything.”

Annie Harman
Annie Harman is a reporter for Echo Press and The Osakis Review. She grew up in Detroit Lakes and graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire with a degree in print journalism and history in May 2012. Follow her on Twitter at annieharman
(320) 763-1233
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