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Boy Achieves Signal Honor

At age of 10, he's one of few in U.S. with radio operator's license

Friday, February 23, 2007
Ann Arbor News Staff Reporter

This is an alert for the amateur radio operators of Livingston County: Don't be surprised if you hear what seems to be the voice of a 10-year-old "ham.''

Ricky Martinez earned his amateur radio license in January and became the youngest person in the Livingston Amateur Radio Klub (LARK), ever to do so.

"It was very, very hard to get my license,'' says Ricky Martinez. "I had to take practice tests.''

"Ricky is in an elite group of kids under age 12 who have received licenses,'' says Dick Renaud, vice president of LARK. "It's rare. There might be 50 kids that age in the U.S. with licenses. It requires dedication.''

Ricky's mom, Katy Martinez, received her Technician Class license just a few months ago, and Renaud says, "This is a family with FCC authority to communicate.''

Ricky's dad, Rick Martinez, has been a ham radio operator for the past couple years.

"As a kid, I listened to AM radio,'' says Rick Martinez. "My father was stationed in Okinawa and we saw ham radio operators talk stateside, and it was amazing.''

Rick Martinez recently passed the Morse code test, one of the highest classes of licenses. The family's basement is a virtual ham radio headquarters nicknamed "the shack.''

"Ricky is very skilled and sounds like an old pro,'' says his dad, who adds that ham radios are a lot less expensive than having cell phones. Prices for radio equipment start at around $100 and there is no cost to use the airwaves.

"I enjoy contacting people on the radio and want to talk to different countries,'' says Ricky Martinez. "My mom and dad and I go to the shack to make contact with other radio operators.''

Amateur radio operators licensed by the FCC, who pass the tests administered by local clubs like LARK, can communicate on either local bands or globally.

LARK works closely with Livingston County emergency responders to make sure that communication is available in disaster situations. Renaud says the club sent members to help during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The club also participates in a program with the National Weather Service called Skywarn, in which operators send out alerts about bad weather conditions.

"The current paid-up membership for LARK is about 70, but it will likely be up to 125 when everybody pays up,'' says Renaud. "More than half of the members are active in county emergency service activity.''

Renaud got his first amateur radio license in 1958.

"We are called amateurs because we are not paid,'' says Renaud. "Most of our members are very technically skilled individuals and include business owners, professional people, laborers, farmers, retirees and housewives. We all have a few things in common - a strong desire to serve the community, a great technical curiosity, and a desire to be part of a growing social service organization.''

As far as his family's membership in LARK goes, Rick Martinez says, "It's a great family to belong to.''