Ross Peterson has trained more than 2,000 amateur radio operators using a method most high school teachers would frown upon: cramming.

With his one-day crash course, Peterson trains local residents to pass the Federal Communications Commission's licensing test, helping them through an initial barrier to becoming self-sufficient radio operators.

Of course, there is much more to learn about the hobby beyond the multiple-choice test, which covers on-air conduct, laws governing radio use and technical information.

But Peterson, 59, said amateur radio is best learned through practice with the guidance of a seasoned "ham," as radio hobbyists are called. The San Mateo resident draws an analogy to the DMV's driving tests.

"Having the piece of paper that says you know how to drive really is where you start learning really how to drive," Peterson said.

Peterson will be honored Tuesday by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors for his training program, credited with expanding the county's network of hams.

He started doing the all-day study sessions in 1998 with his friend and fellow ham John Portune, then a Foster City resident, who had casually been running a crash course on the FCC test for several years.

After Portune moved to Southern California in 2001, Peterson, who also runs a bakery equipment business, took over the program. He formed the non-profit Bay Area Educational Amateur Radio Society and still teaches a class every three months to about 60 students a session.

Officials say hams provide a back-up system to disperse messages during a disaster, when cell phone towers and public safety communications are overloaded.

The next course is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday, May 17, at the College of San Mateo. The cost is $30 and reservations are required. For more information, visit

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