From the finish line…

I’m once again stationed near the finish line at the 8th Annual Flying Pig Marathon. I’m in the “media RV” parked at Yeatman’s Cove, here for reporters covering the Cincinnati run so they can write, relax and get comfortable while telling the story of this trully wonderful event.

But I’m not here covering for that. I’m Betsy Ross‘s ham radio bodyguard.

What that exactly means, neither Betsy nor I really know. Betsy runs Game Day Communications, a media public relations outfit that specializes in PR for sporting events. They’re good at what they do, and though I don’t know Betsy that well, she seems rather adept at what she does. And what I remember of her days as an anchor on WCPO in the 1980s and her more recent gigs filling in as a sports reporter and sports anchor at local television stations, she’s a fine journalist (she also had a stint at WLWT-TV after returning to Cincinnati).

I, though, have a ham radio license. I’m a dork. What can I say? Before you laugh (or after you’re done), wait. Though it’s a specialized hobby and one that not too many people partake in anymore, hams volunteer thousands of hours every year to help out events that really need their help. Like the flying pig. Hams at the Pig – I know, great pun.

We hams, or amateur radio operators, are stationed at every mile of the course, in the lead van, the tail van, in the media tent, with police officers, at the finish line, the starting line, the medical tent. Some aren’t assinged to posts, but people. The race director gets a ham, the fluids coordinator, the information coordinator, the volunteer coordinator, the school buses that pick up runners and transport them to the finish line gets one, too, plus many, many others. Then there are people that run the whole radio network. “Net control operators” who monitor the airwaves, direct radio traffic and keep everything in order.

Yeah, it’s a little dorky. But hams have been requested to return every year since the Pig started. Think that means they help. It’s free communication from people who bring their own radios they buy and train themselves in the hobby’s best practices. The people who use the hams don’t have to carry a radio themselves, know how to operate it, wonder if it works or wonder they are using it effectively. They’ve got a virtual army of volunteers ready and willing to help them out who get up early (just like all the other volunteers who put in hours and hours to make this thing work). I think it makes the whole event run smoother and I doubt many of the 12,000 runners (about 60 percent local, the rest from out of town) even know. Maybe now they will.

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

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