Ham Stories‎ > ‎

Relative Hams

Carrollton family shares passion for amateur radio

By LYNDA STRINGER / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

There's usually a ham in every family. But the Johnson family has three. Ham radio operators, that is.

What's most impressive, though, is one of them is 10 years old.

Rachel Johnson, a fifth-grader at Rosemeade Elementary in Carrollton, is the youngest member of the Metrocrest Amateur Radio Society where the other "hams" – her many adopted uncles – call her Lovely Texas Blonde or Little Teddy Bear after her call sign, KE5LTB.

"I think it's really fun. I get to play around with the gear and get to hang out with other ham operators," Rachel said.

Her dad, Randy Johnson, says he's responsible for her interest. Mom agrees.

"Her daddy wanted her to do it, and ever since it has been a father-daughter thing," said Melanie Johnson, who got her own license for sentimental reasons. Her parents were both licensed amateur radio operators in the 1950s.

"I just wanted my mother's call letters," Mrs. Johnson said.

Now she and her husband have the call signs her parents used, W5WZY and W5WZZ.

"It helps us look back at the past and carry that on, and it gives us something we can all share," she said.

Most of the time, the three communicate with portable radio equipment, but they also use Rachel's grandparents' vintage 1950s amateur radio gear.

Rachel will soon have another link to the past when she acquires her new vanity call signs that were originally assigned to someone in the 1950s: W5WZX, so hers will be in sync with her parents' call signs.

The letters, Rachel said, will stand for "wonderful, zany and exciting."

"Or extraordinary," her dad offered.

It had been Mr. Johnson's childhood dream to get his license, but learning Morse code, he said, stumped him. The 2001 terrorist attacks gave him the resolve he needed.

"That convinced him it was a worthwhile thing to do, not just a fun hobby, but a way he could help in a time of emergency, so he started working on learning the code," Mrs. Johnson said.

Rachel learned it, too, by listening to his Morse code cassette tapes in the car on the way home from a camping trip when she was 7. She now does Morse code demonstrations for her club's annual field day.

She'll take the test for Morse code on Thursday. She wants to upgrade her license before the Federal Communications Commission eliminates the requirement to master Morse code later this month.

She's also crafting a 15-minute speech she's been invited to give to kids at Hamvention, the world's largest amateur radio trade event in Dayton, Ohio, in May.

Rachel, a straight-A student with aspirations to be a writer or a cartoonist, says her friends think the amateur radio thing is cool. But they'd rather e-mail her.