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Radio club becomes second set of ears for Dallas first responders

High school students learn skills to get certification

By Allison Wisk 
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007 The Dallas Morning News

Rowlett High School's amateur radio club has engendered an interest in a hobby that serves as both entertainment and a public service tool.

The club, which began in the fall, is a tutorial for aspiring amateur radio operators looking to complete a certification test to achieve a license and acquire a call sign.

Senior Matthew Stephenson, 18, became interested in ham radio through his parents, who took him to a Garland Amateur Radio Club meeting.

"They were talking about the South Garland High School club, and I really wanted to have that here," Matthew said. "So I got the idea, started making posters and telling people about amateur radio."

Matthew, who is active in Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service with his parents, found a sponsor in Frank Roesch. The school's campus technology aide, Mr. Roesch previously spent time in the Navy and worked in the telecommunications field. He cleared plans for the club with the school's principal.

"We're trying to put more emergency teams in the school," Mr. Roesch said. "Amateur radio is integrated into that, along with homeland security. The idea is that we can teach these kids to be first-responders."

Matthew uses his civil emergency service experience to help pass valuable skills to his peers.

"It's all volunteer-based, and it's a lot of fun. We do everything from tracking tornadic activity to spotting hail and storm clouds," he said. "We're extra eyes and ears for the police and fire departments."

While ham radio provides fun and friendship, Matthew says his motivation lies in the fact that a radio operator may be the last line of defense in dire situations.

"I always carry a radio with an extra set of batteries in my backpack just in case something were to happen, and all cellphones were gone, and the electricity's out," he said. "I'm ready to go to help out, at school, in case something were to ever happen in the building."

Tuesdays and Thursdays after school and Wednesdays before the bell rings, the club meets to prepare for the American Radio Relay League licensing test. Matthew, who is already licensed, is a natural assistant in the study process - particularly as his twin sisters are club members.

Learning about everything from antenna types and coaxial cables to the ham technique of meteor bursting, the group studies the fundamentals of amateur radio operation, all of which are rooted in basic scientific tenets they learn in class.

"It became easier, I guess, for us to understand this stuff after we took physics," said senior Randy Anderson, 17.

Sophomores Jacquelyn and Jessica Stephenson, 15, joined their brother after they noticed how much fun he was having.

"It's really awesome," Jessica said. "[Matthew] started doing it, and it just seemed really cool."

Having made friends across the globe over radio waves, Matthew believes that the club will grow beyond its four core members to unite other like-minded students.

"I think this could be big," he said. "Besides, on the radios, everyone's supportive."