Earle Findley, vice president of the Community Response Task Force, was the featured speaker in March and he described the amazing world of ham radio. With 60 years of worldwide experience as a ham enthusiast, he brought a depth of knowledge about an activity that is a hobby to millions around the globe and a priceless local communications resource when emergencies occur.
“I started out as a SWL,” Findley said, pronouncing the three letters as the word swill. “Does anyone know what that word means in ham radio?” he asked. Then he answered his own question: “It means Short Wave Listener.”
Findley explained anyone can be a SWL and it’s free, as long as one has short wave radio receiver. But to be a ham operator, one must be licensed in at least one of three designated skill levels to operate short wave radio equipment that both receives and transmits in assigned amateur frequency bands. In the United States, these bands are assigned and controlled by the FCC, the same agency that manages and regulates the commercial radio and TV stations we watch and listen to every day. Other countries have similar agencies to manage the airwaves. Findley emphasized amateur radio operators are not in it for profit. They are in it for recreation and fun. In addition, they also provide needed communications in times of emergency.
“We are all considered ham radio operators around the world. In the U.S. there are around 700,000 hams and around 2 million in the world,” Findley said. He explained the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) is a nationwide organization consisting of hams who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment for communications duty in the public service when disaster strikes. ARES is divided into sections, districts and counties, and units throughout the United States. The Northeast Harris County ARES Club is located in Kingwood.
It meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Holy Comforter Lutheran Church.
“We have around 100 hams in the club and about 25 to 30 regularly attend the meetings,” Findley said.
He explained it is through the club that ham information is shared about what is going on in the ham world. In addition, FCC licensing information and training are available including the forms necessary to apply for FCC licensing tests. Findley described the three FCC license ratings that reflect a ham’s skill level. The basic entry level is “technician,” followed by “general” with the highest rating being “amateur extra.” By taking progressively more challenging exams, hams gain access to more frequencies and operating privileges granted by the FCC.
Findley described a host of activities organized through the ARES club. One of the most popular is the annual Field Day Contest, usually held in June. Participants use their ham radio equipment in scenarios in which they apply their skills in emergency situations including setting up their stations using alternate power like generators and 12V batteries. They compete to establish contact with each other and a central base. Findley explained the central base is usually in Roman Forest as the community has made an area there available for the equipment and activity.
“We start on a Saturday morning, and it goes into Sunday afternoon. The purpose is to practice being able to set up the transmitter locations in emergency situations,” Findley said. He walked to a table with a portable ham transceiver on it. He explained the transceiver is both a receiver and transmitter in one package and described how the one on the table was actually used during Hurricane Ike to communicate from the Herman Medical Center in Kingwood near the H-E-B on Kingwood Drive to a ham radio located in Northeast Hospital in Humble to coordinate the use of available beds and the movement of patients between the two hospitals during the time when power was out and cellphone towers were down.
“A lot of hams like me started out with the Boys Scouts or around that time in their youth,” Findley said. He explained one of the things as kids and as adults hams love to do is keep track of distance, i.e., meaning keeping track of the distances from themselves to someone with whom they can successfully establish communications. He noted there are standardized ham records and forms on which to exchange confirmations of those far away contacts using the mail to obtain written sign offs by the hams and to support each ham’s Log of The World, which is the name of the contact logs kept by hams for their long-distance contacts.
“The distance one can transmit and receive depends on the power of the equipment and the size of the antenna,” Findley said. He described very affordable but less powerful equipment, less than $100, that works but has limited range. Although the more affordable equipment is less powerful, it is often able to use repeater stations of which there are many in Houston and throughout the United States to reach beyond their own limited range. That enables them to communicate long distances, beyond the range of their limited equipment. At the other end of the spectrum, Findley described powerful multi thousand-dollar installations with large complex antennas that can transmit to anywhere including the manned International Space Station which has a ham system on board.
To learn more, Findley encouraged anyone interested in ham radios to check out the local Kingwood ARES Club. Its webpage is: sites.google.com/site/aresnehc/nehc.
Monthly C.R.T.F. meetings are held at the Atascocita Fire Department the second Friday of the month from 1 to 2 p.m. In April, Rob Gaudette, a founding member the Cajun Navy in Louisiana, is scheduled as the guest speaker. The public is invited to attend, especially by teleconference. Details of the meetings, changes and the teleconference link are maintained on the webpage: crtf.org/calendar.