Radio Round Table Provides Chance to ‘Exhale’ During Stay-At-Home Order

Photos provided by the CV Radio Club
Gary Kiffel, a member of the Crescenta Valley Radio Club, is part of the morning crew that touches base each day at 10 a.m.

By Brandon HENSLEY

Think the staying-at-home order has got local amateur radio operators down? That’s a negatory, good buddy.

Some are doing it out of their bedroom. Some are doing it out of their living room. Others have a garage, which makes it more comfortable to do it there. Wherever it’s happening, ham radio is connecting a group of people across the Southland during this time of social distancing.

Since sometime in March, when staying-at-home was mandated, a collection of 10 to 20 people got on the amateur radio airwaves every day at 10 a.m. just to shoot the breeze. Sure, Zoom chats are popular, and cellphones still work, but creating a radio round table to connect feels right to these guys. Call them practical stunt men in a time of CGI.

“It’s nice to hear that person’s voice. You start to participate in each other’s lives. You share personal events,” said Joe Antczak, one of the co-founders of the group.

Antczak, who lives in Sherman Oaks, said he was on the air in the middle of the morning one day and fellow ham Gary Kiffel, who lives in Burbank, heard him and responded. A thought about creating a daily radio meetup evolved into what it is now, going two months strong.

“One of us heard the other,” Kiffel said, trying to recall that day. “[Joe] thought that with people being home, not having jobs to go to at that point … we both agreed it would be worth a try.”

Another member of the CV Radio Club, Joe Antczak created the daily radio meetup with Kiffel.

“It’s like a morning call-in show,” Kiffel continued, “except we don’t take calls.”

The two aren’t strangers. They both belong to the Crescenta Valley Radio Club, which meets monthly at Verdugo Hills Hospital. The round table is a sort of cure for not being able to meet, and it’s brought diverse people together. For example, a young man enrolled at a Cal State school is part of the round table after one of his professors turned him on to amateur radio. Once he earned his license, it was all systems go.

Both Antczak and Diffel say daily conversations range from what people had for breakfast to topics on gardening and cooking. They touch on daily news about the virus, but say discussions steer clear of agenda-driven arguments.

“There’s a diversity of opinions, a spirit of supporting each other … We’re working on the assumption that we are all American amateur radio operators,” Kiffel said, and that means that, just like they say on TV these days, we’re all in this together.

Kiffel moved to Southern California several years ago. He worked for CBS on “Late Show with David Letterman” as the sound effects guy in a studio underneath Letterman’s desk. Now he broadcasts out of a booth in his garage in a sunny suburb 3,000 miles away.

“Everything’s in it but a car,” he said, describing his play space.

Ask Kiffel a question and he’ll take advantage of every description the English language has to offer. He described Antczak as “part of the driving spirit” of the round table. “He’s a beautiful guy. He levels a discussion from peaks and valleys to a smooth place.”

Kiffel describes the rest of the round table as a “bountiful buffet of humans.”

Antczak, who works as a cameraman on TV shows, is more to the point but shares his friend’s sentiments on the group, which includes people not in the CV Radio Club.

“It’s a way to use our hobby, to use the connections we have with each other. Not just the hams but the wives and husbands and children we’ve gotten to know,” he said.

Both men said they don’t know what will happen to the group when society gets back to normal. Politicians and media like to use the term “new normal,” and maybe continuing the round table will be exactly that for these hams.

“When things get back to normal a number of people who participate won’t be able to because they have to go to work,” Antczak said. “I would like to continue because it’s a good social activity.”

“The future is uncertain,” Kiffel said. “We started this for people to exhale in the mornings … I can’t say. There’s too much future to predict, and I can’t predict any of it.”