It seems to me that readers play an important role in determining what this column is all about, that is, they may ask me to “look into something” or for my opinion or whatever. Well, that happened again recently when I was at a social gathering and a long-time reader commented, “Bill, I read that you’re a Ham, what’s your handle?” I explained that amateur radio operators don’t have “handles” but have call signs and mine is N8YGS. I think she was a bit disappointed that I don’t have a clever and pronounceable “handle” such as “Slick Willie” or “Old Codger” and the conversation ended.
This encounter, however, rang alarm bells in this old noggin because this lady is intelligent, articulate, and knowledgeable in all sorts of areas. My concern is if she equates amateur radio with Citizen Band (CB) radio, this reveals a serious lack of understanding of amateur radio and Hams — and indicates lotsa other folks likely do also. With the latest estimate of 30,000 attendees at the upcoming Hamvention being held at the Greene County fairgrounds I figured a bit of information/education about our visiting Hams is appropriate.
To begin with, unlike folks using CB, amateur radio operators must be licensed by the government — a process that involves passing tests for each “class” of license. Each class authorizes a Ham to use specific radio frequencies that permit communications over ranges from a relatively few miles for entry level operators to thousands of miles for those more highly qualified.
Hams usually band together into local clubs — there are three in our county located in Bellbrook, Fairborn, and Xenia. There is also a very large Dayton Amateur Radio Association or DARA — the organization sponsoring Hamvention. Hams may join any or all of these organizations — I’m a member of both the Xenia and the Dayton clubs. While pursing their own local interests, these clubs also cooperate in a variety of ways — such as conducting free classroom instruction for anyone wishing to become a Ham or to upgrade their existing license. They also provide free testing and licensing assistance. But Hams are much more than self-centered — nope, in fact, they are primarily community-centered.
For example, when severe weather is threatened, Hams activate “weather nets” consisting of a “net control” station and operators who are trained in weather observation and reporting. These operators, working from fixed or mobile stations, report conditions such as wind direction and strength, cloud formation and movement, precipitation type and level, and damage. These on-the-ground observations go to the control station which then relays them to the weather service center in Wilmington to supplement other weather-related information.
Ham radio is also embedded in a variety of emergency and disaster plans and operations — to supplement official capabilities and actions. A number of firefighter/Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) are Hams and Ham radios are part of the communications setup at some fire stations. In addition to these local connections, there are area and regional amateur radio organizations that contribute emergency communications capability to authorities and regular “exercises” are conducted to ensure these amateur radio services work as planned.
To keep their skills sharp, Hams also provide “community service” — such as supporting the Air Force marathon and numerous other marathons, half-marathons, 5K, and bicycling events and even equestrian meets. In each case, a control station is established and operators are stationed along the course to observe and report both activity and problems. This real-time reporting about the progress of the event is then provided to event officials for their information.
Folks, this is a small sample of Ham activities — and this type of endeavor is replicated across the country as Hams, although essentially invisible to the general public, provide essential services to communities. Remember, these folks are all volunteers, spending their own money for equipment and devoting countless hours to do their part in ensuring our communities are safe, helping make a bunch of community activities successful — and having a good time in the process.
Well, I hope I have cleared up a bit of the misunderstanding about amateur radio, but I’ll likely revisit the subject again before Hamvention. After all, when visitors to our county outnumber the population of our county seat we should know as much as possible about them.
At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, an area resident and Ham, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.