Friday, April 3, 2020

Self-quarantining and radio contact

radioI’ve been thinking about ways that TB patients combatted loneliness. Spending much of their time alone, often far from family and friends, radio served as a source of entertainment and a lifeline to community. In 1927, a time when there were fewer than 100 radio stations in the United States, Saranac Lake founded its own local radio station, WNBZ. The people at WNBZ produced locally grown radio shows tailored to keep TB patients busy, like courses in literature and history and one called, “Let’s Learn Spanish.”

Ham radio allowed for two-way communication and built lasting friendships. While a patient at the Trudeau Sanatorium in the 1930s, Ed Worthington made his own amateur receiving set at a cost of $25. When not busy talking with “hams” all over the country, he developed a brisk trade repairing other patients’ radios. He went on to teach Radio Theory and Code at the Study and Craft Guild. Thanks to Ed’s daughter Jan Dudones, we have Ed’s beautiful ham radio in our collection, along with his scrapbook of call signs from other hams around the world with whom he made radio contact.

I hope that as you go forward this week, you will think of Ed and his radio, and all the patients who reached out from their bedsides across the airwaves. Our human desire to connect with each other is a beautiful thing, and it will pull us through this situation we face today.

I find myself thinking a lot about you, the people who I think of as my Historic Saranac Lake family. I have spent the last 12 years working with you to nurture this little museum. Over that time, I have made so many friends. We are far-flung, but we are joined by an appreciation for the Saranac Lakers who came before us. Their stories can ground us now and show us ways to get through these times together.


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Amy Catania is the Executive Director of Historic Saranac Lake.

8 Responses

  1. Terry says:

    Well written! Very encouraging! Thank you!

  2. Big Burly says:

    Thank you Amy. Wonderful story, much appreciate the reminder of the humanity that folks bring out in times like this.

  3. Ginny Alfano says:

    My husband is using his ham radio’s to reach out around the world during this pandemic. Even if he doesn’t talk, we love listening to learn what others do, or have done, while being sheltered in place. Thank you so much for writing this article, Amy. It was not only informative, but made my husband proud that he is one of thousands who carry on the tradition of being a ham radio operator. Stay safe and healthy.

  4. Bill Ott says:

    I’ve watched enough Law & Order for two lifetimes, surfed the web, and then come back and actually read this article because three people commented on it. WOW, do we have it good now compared to 1927. Then I realized I could tune in our Lakewood police, fire, and ems audio feed. It helps a little, but what I noticed most of all is that out of a 50,000 population, only 17 people are now listening. This may be an unused local resource in many areas. And if it is not there, at least you could kill some time looking for it.

  5. Matt Birmingham says:

    My Father, John Birmingham was a patient on two separate occasions at Trudeau. He contracted TB in his native Brooklyn, and after the second stint he became a full time resident of the North Country, and from 1947-51 was the morning announcer at WNBZ.

  6. Matt Birmingham says:

    My Father, John Birmingham contracted TB in his native Brooklyn, and required two treatments at Trudeau. After his second stint, he was so fond of the Adirondacks he became a permanent resident and from 1947-52 was the morning announcer at WNBZ.

  7. Boomer Rumblefahrt says:

    Please correct the spelling of “quarantining” in your article headline. It reflects badly on you, your editor (if any), and the almanack.

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