Dialed In

Haywood County Amateur Radio Club operators dial into public service needs while amping up the fun.
By Megan Northcote | Jun 26, 2013
Photo by: Megan Northcote Two HCARC members, Dan Cronin, left, and Gary Small, right, operate one of the radio stations at this year's Field Day.

Lifestyles Editor — For members of the Haywood County Amateur Radio Club (HCARC), operating amateur radios, also known as ham radios, is both a hobby and a valuable form of emergency communication.

According to the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for amateur radios in the U.S., amateur radios are any form of non-commercial radio communication regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.

“Most of the public doesn’t understand how beneficial a ham radio can be,” HCARC Vice President Bill Laney said. “Ham radios can operate under any conditions. If a storm came through and blew down all the power lines in the country, we can still operate.”

Unlike cell phones, amateur radios don’t necessarily have to rely on the internet or a repeater/transmission station to operate. Often times, amateur radios are powered by generators, and some are even powered by solar paneling, such as a station atop Crabtree Bald in Haywood County.

Originating around the turn of the century, today there are nearly 700,000 amateur radio operators in the United States alone.

Haywood County has a strong amateur radio operator presence with over 200 licensed ham operators recognized by the FCC.

“Our club was started as a hobby for amateur radio users to get together and talk to people around the world,” John Eroh, HCARC treasurer and membership coordinator, said.

The club, which began in November 2005, now includes nearly 50 members, and is one of four amateur radio clubs in Western North Carolina, Eroh said.

The club offers three levels of nine week amateur radio licensing classes twice a year in the spring and fall. While some radio operators still communicate through Morse Code, the FCC has eliminated learning the code as a licensing requirement.

Last weekend, members of HCARC gathered for Field Day, an annual contest where amateur radio groups across the globe are challenged to contact as many other ham radio operators as possible within a 24-hour period. The event ran from 2 p.m. Saturday, June 22 to 2 p.m., Sunday June 23 at 1650 Brown Ave. in the Ingle’s parking lot in Waynesville.

At the event, HCARC members operated three radio stations, powered by generators. Radio waves were transmitted via three shortwave, high frequency bands through two antennas – a dipole antenna with horizontal fiberglass tubes encasing metal rods and a 20-meter quad antenna attached to a trailer donated by Haywood County Emergency Management services.

Inside the trailer, HCARC member Paul Yeager sat in front of the computer, wearing headphones while communicating to other operators in call signs, a unique combination of letters and numbers assigned to each licensed amateur radio operator and club.

Within the first few, Yeager had already made contact with several operators in Germany, Japan and New Zealand.

At last year’s Field Day, HCARC, who goes by the club call sign KW4P-5, made 999 contacts, an average ranking in an international competition, held mainly in the U.S. and Canada.

In recent years, ham radios have provided emergency communications during times of disaster, such as during earthquakes in Haiti, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and, most recently, the Oklahoma tornado.

An Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) tracking system called digipeaters (digital repeater), operate as amateur radios with a built-in GPS device. These digipeaters can assist emergency personnel in locating disaster victims and relaying information to family members in a timely manner without tying up main emergency channels.

“[Amateur radios] have a much wider range of frequencies we’re able to use,” Eroh said. “We’re not restricted to using a few channels like the county is.”

Occasionally, HCARC has been tasked to help emergency personnel locate people stranded on the highway during snowstorms or lost hikers on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“Our goal is to establish better relations with the emergency management teams and the sheriff’s office in Haywood County to offer more assistance in times of emergencies,” Yeager said.

The club primarily volunteers their communication services at the Blue Ridge Breakaway, a cycling event sponsored by the Haywood Chamber of Commerce planned for Saturday, Aug. 17 that starts at Lake Junaluska.

At the event, HCARC served as SAG (Supplies and Gear) drivers at 10 different rest stops along the route.  These drivers utilized hand held amateur radios and digipeaters to keep track of the location of each cyclist for safety reasons.

“The Blue Ridge Parkway officials said HCARC was one of the biggest assests at the event,” Laney said.

 

Want to get involved:

HCARC meets at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at Emergency Operations Center on Depot Street in downtown Waynesville. For more information about the club or how to become a liscensed ham radio operator, call Eroh at 550-3005 or visit
http://wnchamradio.org/
.

The 2013 Annual Western Carolina Hamfest will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, July 27 at the Haywood County Fairgrounds at 758 Crabtree Road in Waynesville. Hamfest is an opportunity for ham operators to meet, exchange technical radio knowledge and radio equipment. For more information, visit www.wcars.org/hamfest.

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