Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find someone in Henderson using cutting edge technology to casually chat with another person in a foreign country.
But to find someone doing it without paying for a “data plan” or even being connected to a cellphone network, and you have found a Rusk County ham radio operator.
Several of them recently formed the Rusk County Amateur Radio Club, dedicated to promoting Amateur Radio, providing emergency communications when needed and educating and encouraging anyone in the area to become a “ham.”
“The term ‘ham’ has a cloudy beginning,” said David Chenault, long-time ham and one of the new club’s officers. “However it came about, nowadays it just means someone who is a licensed amateur radio operator.”
Each ham takes a test on radio knowledge and is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. As the term “amateur” implies, none of the hams can use their license to earn money.
“It’s a hobby, in the strictest sense of the word,” said Chenault. “It’s just, really, a lot of fun. Where else can I take $2 worth of wire, a cheap, used radio and a nine-volt battery and use it to talk to some guy in the Amazon jungle? That’s cool!”
Chenault said other hams transmit video and digital data, they talk to the space station, serve as storm spotters and even deliver messages for service men and women who can’t use telephones.
Jon Brunner, Treasurer for the local club, says he enjoys the community service aspect of the hobby.
“I like storm spotting and chasing,” said Brunner who recently attended an Advanced Storm Spotting class held for local hams by the National Weather Service.
Hams were also a vital part of the emergency response following hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Sandy which knocked out cellphone service for days and severely limited police and fire communications systems.
“It was hams who were ready and able to set up networks of radios within hours of the storms,” said Keith Ballow, president of the club.
The club is preparing for a nation-wide emergency communications drill, call “Field Day,” June 22-23. “It’s like a huge contest,” said Chenault, who has participated in several Field Days. “We go somewhere away from things — like out in a field — set up our antennas, radios and an emergency power source and operate for 24 hours straight.” The group even invites the public to come out, watch or even participate under the supervision of a licensed ham. “If you’ve ever thought it might be fun to try, it’s a great way to ‘dip your foot in the water’,” said Chenault.
This year’s Field Day will be held at Lake Forest Park, June 22-23.
The club’s website has more information at RuskCountyARC.com.
Managing Editor Matthew Prosser can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.