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Maine governor masters ham radio use

Governor John Baldacci got his license last fall. Governor John Baldacci got his license last fall.

AUGUSTA, Maine -- Just in case disaster strikes, the governor's at the ready with his radio.

To other amateur radio operators, or hams, he's KBI-NXP. To everyone else, he's Governor John E. Baldacci.

Baldacci said he was inspired to go for his federal amateur radio operator's license when he observed the important role hams can play in January 1998 when Maine was wracked by disaster.

"I saw it firsthand during the ice storm when the communications system went down," Baldacci said as he returned from surveying the damage from Maine's latest disaster, last week's coastal storm that caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

Under the tutelage of Rodney Scribner, a former state finance official who now oversees ham operations for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, Baldacci mastered the rigorous amateur radio-licensing requirements.

It required getting up early many mornings and piecing studies around campaigns and other demands on the former congressman's time. Baldacci was issued a license last fall.

It makes him the nation's only governor with a ham license, said Allen Pitts, spokesman for the American Radio Relay League, or AARL, a national association based in Connecticut.

"It's a topic for which the hams are right proud," Pitts said.

Baldacci sees his radio qualifications as a component of his job, saying they give him all of the pieces he needs to oversee response and recovery in the event of a major disaster.

In his State House office, he keeps his portable ham radio on a desk right next to his two emergency phones -- a black Homeland Security line and a separate red emergency phone.

"It's there, 24-7," said Baldacci, who is also considering whether to set up a more elaborate base at Blaine House.

Hams didn't emerge as a critical communications link during last week's storm because most phone and Internet lines were still up. But hams were busy in the background. For example, they relayed the locations of emergency shelters , said William Woodhead of Auburn, AARL's section manager for Maine. The state has about 4,000 licensed hams.