Spotlight on Los Alamos: Communicating with dits and dahs

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By Gabriel Vasquez

You may have seen him walking around town with a heavy-duty transmitter strapped to his back, antenna pointing to the sky and a concerted look on his face.

He’s not a Ghostbuster, John W. Snell is just a history buff of a different breed, and there’s plenty others like him.

Almost every day, you can catch Snell at Ashley Pond with his headset on, vehemently tapping away at his telegraph key and scrambling to write down the response of whichever radio operator he happens to be talking to at the time.

“It’s a way for me to reach out and be a little closer to history in a personal way,” Snell said. “Most days I make a contact – I just have to be persistent.”

Snell, who’s worked for almost 20 years as a nurse at the Endoscopy Center of Los Alamos, said he’s been interested in Morse code transmission and radio communication since he was young. He’s been using his World War II-era equipment to communicate via Morse code since acquiring his HAM (Amateur Radio Operator) license in 2002.

“I grew up on a farm listening to these old signals because there was no TV in those days,” he said. “The lights on the radio glowed like a Christmas tree.”

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