As America’s Living Symbol of Freedom, the USS Midway Museum strives to preserve the legacy of those who are serving and have served in the military, as well as inspire and educate its guests. Like any museum, this is done primarily through in-person visits, formal educational programs and community outreach.
Midway, however, also has a quiet behind-the-scenes program that has been reaching out to people all over the world for nearly two decades and it’s done the old fashion way – through RADIO.
Once a month, Midway’s volunteer team of HAM radio operators take to the air waves to not only talk about the ship, both as a warfighter and museum, but about significant events in U.S. and military history.
“We do active museum outreach, on the air, and engage with the amateur radio community,” said Rick Low, who heads up the museum’s radio team. “We enjoy being able to educate the public as ambassadors on the air.”
The radio team initially switched on its “On Air” light shortly after the Midway opened its doors as a museum nearly 17 years ago, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the small group of volunteers started to get active. They operate Midway’s radio station, using call sign NI6IW, from three small spaces on the ship just below the flight deck.
“Much of the original equipment was financed by a generous donor who wanted to ensure the museum had a radio voice that could bring the ship to life over the airwaves,” said Rick, a former fast-attack submarine commander who served 30 years in the U.S. Navy. “We ended up with three state-of-the-art high frequency radios. Members of an amateur radio organization in Southern California later donated a VHF/UHF radio which extended our reach to amateur radio operators worldwide.”
Made up of 20-25 active volunteers representing all the service branches, the radio team puts Midway “on the air” once a month leading discussions on a wide range of topics from the USS Midway’s commissioning in 1945 to Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
“On the second Saturday of the month, we’re generally active 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” said Low.
“People I talk with really like hearing about Midway, and those who haven’t visited the ship have a great interest in doing so,” said Randy Houk, a member of the museum’s radio team since 2017. “They also like hearing the history of events we commemorate. All the time I hear ‘we must not let our history be forgotten,’ so I feel that it’s important to continue these monthly events.”
While COVID brought much of the tourism industry to a screeching halt, Midway’s radio team continued broadcasting with several of its volunteers transmitting from their homes augmenting the efforts of those operators on board.
“During the pandemic, many of our team operated from their home station bubbles,” said Rick. “However, we will eventually resume 100 percent operations from the ship and provide genuine contact with the museum itself.”
It is not unusual for the radio team to interact with more than 400 contacts during their monthly events. Most of the conversations are within the United States, but the team regularly engages with people from all over the world – from Asia to Europe and as far south as South America, Australia and New Zealand.
“Our team does outreach to other HAMs throughout the world, answering questions about the Midway,” said Bruce Hill, a museum volunteer since 2012 who retired as a senior chief radioman after a 22-year Navy career. “I have talked with many HAMs including people in Russia, South Korea and several other places.”
Closer to home, the radio team also works with the Boy Scouts on a radio merit badge program.
“We provide the instructors to help the scouts earn their radio merit badge,” said Rick. “Through mentoring, instructing, and face-to-face interaction, we hope we’re planting the seed for future opportunities by establishing a measure of interest in wireless communications.”
The Midway boasts a variety of different onboard volunteer opportunities, but the common thread is that they all connect the public to the museum and the important role played by the U.S. military.
“We give back to the ship, its guests and the amateur radio community,” said Rick about the satisfaction he and his team get through volunteering for the Midway. “Without exception, each monthly on-the-air event brings a multitude of ‘thanks’ from veterans and non-veterans who appreciate that we will never forget. And in an indirect way, we encourage people to come to San Diego and visit the ship.”