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Hobby Enthusiasts 'Ham' It Up Saturday


The Palestine Herald

PALESTINE— Except for a sign by the door, the handful of trucks and cars parked by the small white block building at Easy and Caplin streets could have signalled a get-together for college football Saturday afternoon.

Once inside, visitors to the Palestine Anderson County Amateur Radio Club found club members tuned in to shortwave radio frequencies, not football broadcasts.

Club members gathered at the PACARC clubhouse Saturday to take part in the Amateur Radio Relay League’s Amateur Radio Awareness Day. The day is scheduled during September as part of the Homeland Security National Preparedness Month.

Amateur radio, or “ham radio” as it commonly is known, uses radio frequencies, antenna and relay towers to transmit messages around the world on various radio wave band widths. Emergency management operations often include amateur radio operators because their equipment can be used to get word in or out of an area when phone service fails or power is lost.

“You’re always going to be able to get the word out for somebody,” club president Tom Wardell said. “You may not get directly who you want to talk to but hopefully, you can skip around to somebody.”

As part of Saturday’s activities, club members had made contact with ham radio operators in other states, such as South Carolina, and along historic Route 66, where other hams had set up stations in areas such as St. Louis, Mo. and Kansas.

Westwood High School senior Charlie Drees, who recently passed his exam to receive a technician’s license, said he had become interested in amateur radio after hanging around his friend Taylor Montgomery, another amateur radio operator whose father Jeff is a longtime club member.

“I started listening to them and I thought it was pretty cool,” said Drees, who added that he liked volunteering, something that club members frequently do at local events such as the Dogwood Duathlon and Neches Wilderness Canoe Race.

Drees took advantage of a one-day crash course in amateur radio earlier in the summer and passed his exam, earning his technician’s license. Now he plans to learn Morse code to upgrade to a general license, he said.

He’d like to see greater public awareness of amateur radio lead to more people becoming involved with the club, Drees said.

“I was really shy,” Drees said, explaining that he was ready to go home after the day-long course. “But I got on (the radio) and I made five connections one day and three the next. It was fun.”

Likewise, local firefighter Gary Anthony said he had become involved recently in amateur radio because of other amateur radio operators.

Growing up, Anthony’s grandfather and neighbor were ham radio enthusiasts. He and his father looked into it themselves in the 1990s but didn’t follow through, he said, until another firefighter earned his license.

“Randall Shoulders told me about it one day at the fire department,” Anthony said, which prompted him to contact his father, and the pair both tested and passed.

Although a fun hobby, as a firefighter it’s the practical side that attracts him more, Anthony said.

“The hobby part is really neat, but the emergency preparedness has a part of the fire department,” Anthony said. “If Randall’s not there, two (operators) are better than one.”

Ken Ives, who serves as Squadron Commander for the local Civil Air Patrol, earned his first ham license in 1965 while in the United States Air Force. He’s remained involved locally since PACARC began in 1976, he said.

“There’s a challenge to it,” Ives said.

Jeff Montgomery, who also has been a club member since 1976, said the group often helps at area events and has equipment set up if needed in the county’s emergency management operations center in the courthouse. But it’s the group’s mobility that sets it apart from other means of communication, he added.

“That’s the beauty of amateur radio,” Montgomery said. “We can go anywhere.”

Charlie Drees of Palestine takes part in the Amateur Radio Relay League’s Amateur Radio Awareness Day Saturday at the Palestine Anderson County Amateur Radio Club (PACARC) clubhouse. Drees, a Westwood High School senior, recently earned his technician’s license to operate “ham radios” with the club. The Palestine Herald