Young sons — and daughters, too, it seems — sometimes adopt the hobbies of their fathers and mothers because participating with them is a great way to spend that ever so elusive quality time with each other.
My father’s big hobby was being a ham radio operator, but it didn’t stick beyond childhood with me because I never could figure out what to say to someone half a continent (or half a world) away. I also struggled with Morse code, a requirement at the time for an amateur radio license and still an important skill for “ham” operators.
But it wasn’t for lack of opportunity to learn.
I can still hear his voice in the corner of the room where his amateur radio setup lived. “This is W4MHE, W4-Mighty Heavy Elephant…”
One summer, he all but tore up the dashboard of the family car in order to install a mobile unit. In an era before mobile phones, watching your dad communicate with others through this unsightly equipment on the transmission hump by the front seat of the car was a big rush for an elementary school kid.
As the years passed, the hours he spent in front of his console at the house became commonplace. But there was also a sense of excitement when field day came around each summer. Members of his amateur radio club joined thousands of others throughout the world making contacts and logging names nonstop over a long weekend, practicing skills that would serve them well in times of emergency.
It all paid off one Christmas, when Dad was a link in a ham radio and telephone communications chain that put a family that had been missing after a flood in South America with relatives in the northeastern United States.
You might think that with all the modern technology available to emergency response teams these days, the need for the services of “ham” radio operators would have faded. That’s not the case. In certain situations that could occur almost anywhere, these operators could form a network that would be the only link to the outside world in times of disaster.
If they aren’t alerting others of an emergency here, they are fielding transmissions from other disasters and relaying information that could mean the difference between life and death.
The Brownwood Amateur Radio Club has established a workstation at the local emergency operations center at the Brown County Law Enforcement Center. It will be available to assist local emergency operations should a disruption in traditional communications occur. In conjunction with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, the club is also training members to handle emergency and priority traffic efficiently, and how to respond during emergency situations. Members are also getting training from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s independent study program.
I’ve never found out how amateur radio operators acquired the “ham” nickname, but nicknames — or “handles” — are common in the radio field. Those of you who were around during the CB radio craze got a taste of that. My father’s handle was “Ed,” created from the initials of his first and last name. But ham operators are amateurs only in the sense that they serve the community without pay.
The Brownwood club buys most of its own equipment and currently owns two radio repeaters in the area. Its 30 members are in the process of raising funds to replace old equipment and repair antennas. A spokesman for the club said a grant from the J. R. Beadel Central Texas Foundation has put the group halfway to the $6,500 needed.
Field day exercises continue each year, and I always try to make it by the location where club members have their mobile units in place, calling other “hams” around the world. I’m told that will be happening in June, and that’s just around the corner now.
It would be great if the club had the funds needed for its improvements in hand by then. We never know when their services will be desperately needed.
Gene Deason is managing editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.