It seems to me that amateur radio operators, or Hams such as will shortly be attending the Hamvention, are largely unnoticed in their home communities – as they are around here. After all, Hams are just ordinary people living their ordinary lives like our other friends and neighbors. The difference is that they are involved in a well-disciplined hobby that may well have an impact on lotsa folks’ lives – because of Hams’ involvement in public service and safety.
Okay, there are a couple of indicators a Ham may be living in your neighborhood. One is a parked vehicle displaying vanity license plates with an unusual combination of letters and numbers such as N8YGS or K8YDP which are “call signs” identifying an amateur radio operator. And check for one or more antennas that don’t look as if they came with the vehicle. Another clue might be mast or tower mounted arrangements of metal rods and perhaps some wires. One such assembly might look somewhat like a TV antenna, but others certainly don’t. Nope, these are amateur radio antennas.
Such antennas have been the source of controversy in some cities and “covenant” communities which have levied such severe restrictions on amateur radio antennas as to effectively ban them – thus prohibiting Hams from exercising their federally-issued licenses. Fortunately for amateur radio, federal and state authorities have stepped in requiring “reasonable accommodation” for Hams’ antennas – citing the vital role amateur radio has in emergency and disaster situations. Oh, there are still restrictions and zoning requirements, but for the most part, these are reasonable.
How and where else might Hams be identified? Well, if you had gone by the Xenia YMCA during the recent Roadrunners marathon and half marathon event, you might have seen some folks wearing those yellow Dayglo jackets with “Amateur Radio” on them – they were Hams assisting event officials. Even if you didn’t notice the individuals you surely would have seen in the parking lot a nice sized white trailer with XWARN in large letters on its side. This self contained communications center – purchased, outfitted, and maintained by the Xenia amateur radio club – has a retractable mast capable of supporting several antennas, its own power generator that can be used if commercial power is not available, and several operating stations inside. Yep, this trailer, which can be towed by a pickup or other vehicle with a standard trailer hitch, is a sure indicator Hams are around.
Other radio clubs have their own stand-alone communications centers as well that are capable of supporting public service events and are available in case of emergency to supplement official communications. Oh, yes, Hams may be found at all sorts of public events – it’s just that folks don’t notice them because they’re part of the background.
Anyplace else where Hams might be found? Sure. Every June Hams throughout the country participate in “Field Day”, which as its name implies, is an event where Hams set up a 24 hour operation to simulate “in the field” operations under emergency or disaster conditions. Antennas masts are erected on the site to support various antennas, including some very large ones for long range communications, and power is supplied by generators. Some locations used hereabouts nave included city parks in Xenia, Fairborn, and, I think, in Bellbrook; a vacant field at the AF base; adjacent to township fire stations; and I’m pretty sure at the fairgrounds. Using both short and long range radios, operators establish contact with other Field Day sites and maintain a log of the identity, location, time, and reliability of each contact. By the way, the public is notified of this event in local newspapers and folks are welcome to stop by, take a look and ask questions.
Well, there you have it – probably more than you ever wanted to know about Hams and amateur radio, but there’s one question I’m frequently asked that I don’t think I’ve answered. Where did the term “Ham” come from? I’ve heard several explanations, but the one I like best is that professional radio operators started describing amateur radio operators as nothing but “Hamateurs” – apparently a reference to “Ham” actors. In reaction to this intended slight, amateurs shortened this to “Hams” and proudly adopted the nickname. Whether this tale is true or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Hams are here to stay as important part of our society. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, Greene County Daily columnist and licensed Ham, may be contacted at email@example.com.