Lucas Residents Learn All About Ham Radio at the Lucas Ham Radio Club Field Day
It did not take long after Italian Nobel Prize winner, engineer, and inventor Guglielmo Marconi adapted wired telegraphy into a new technology called “wireless telegraphy” (the precursor to radio as we know it today) in the 1890s for hobbyists to seize the opportunity to become their own radio station operators.
Today, there are about 800,000 Ham radio operators in the United States who are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. To this day, the origin of the term “Ham” is wrapped in mystery and legend. Some suggest it derives from the initials of the last names of three founders of an early collegiate amateur radio club, but the most common explanation of the term is that it stems from slang references such as “ham-fisted” to denote those who are amateurs. What is clear is that in the one hundred and thirty years since Marconi’s invention, HAM radio operators have carved out a remarkable legacy of selfless devotion to providing a vital, yet unofficial communications network that has saved countless lives and played an essential role in responding to disasters of all sorts around the world.
On Saturday, January 25, ten Lucas Ham operators of the Lucas Ham Radio Club staged a public service exercise at the Lucas Fire Station on Country Club Road to demonstrate the unique role they play in the community and the capabilities of Ham radio. It is also one of two national “Field Day” events sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the association of Ham radio operators, designed to help recruit new hobbyists to Ham radio.
Tim Johnson (K5TCJ) of Lucas and Stan Starks (NW5Q) of Allen, both members of the Lucas club, helped to organize the event and explained that it runs 24 hours and permits members to demonstrate the variety of ways in which operators can connect with others across the nation and around the world. Both are proud of their vanity call signs, assigned by the FCC as license plate numbers are assigned by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Johnson’s call sign K5TCJ represents his location (K, W, A, and R all designate a USA-based operator), his region (5- a portion of Texas) and his initials TCJ (Tim C Johnson). Different nations use different call sign designators such a JA for Japan.
Much of the allure of Ham radio stems from the ability to contact other operators easily, usually for purely social reasons but also to provide vital communications in times of acute need. Johnson related how dozens of US mainland Hams packed up and went to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2018 to provide communications at a time when virtually all cell towers were destroyed preventing residents and first responders from communicating with each other. That experience was not much different from similar instances when natural or manmade disasters rendered other places similarly unable to communicate.
Johnson says the two fastest growing segments of Ham radio operators are people over age 50, especially those who are retired, as well as young people under age 20. He relates how at a prior field day, three fourteen-year old girls attended and were allowed to operate a GOTA (Get on The Air), a station designed for newbies to experience Ham radio under supervision. They were absolutely thrilled when one of the three made contact with a Ham radio operator in Brazil. Starks noted that there are several women who are members of the Lucas Club, something that is becoming more common. Another fourteen-year old, Katherine Forsam, a student in the Plano Independent School District, is considered a rock star among local hobbyists because she recently won 2nd place in a Regional Science Fair Competition with her radio station. She was recognized by a national magazine in the Ham radio space and will go on to compete for national recognition.
One of the common goals of many Ham radio operators is to win recognition by the ARRL for making contact with other operators in all 50 states. Typically, many radio operators exchange postcards to certify their mutual connection. Likewise, another competition awards recognition for those who have made contact with operators in 100 or more nations. Johnson has earned recognition at both levels. Starks shares that his most precious contact so far was an operator on Amsterdam Island, a tiny atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean, almost directly opposite the global position of Texas but 11,000 miles away. Johnson remembers reaching a Ham on Reunion Island, also in the middle of the vast Indian Ocean.
In 2010, the FCC dropped the requirement that prospective Ham radio operators master Morse Code sufficiently to pass the written licensing examination. That requirement served as an obstacle for many who wished to become licensed but didn’t want to have to learn Morse Code. Today, most communications occur by voice although many Hams continue to operate exclusively using Morse Code. It is viewed as sort of a badge of distinction among veteran operators. Someone who does wish to learn Morse Code can generally master it within six months or so.
If you think you may wish to become a Ham radio operator, the Lucas Ham Radio Club offers two-day classes to prepare you for the FCC exam. The cost of entry is surprisingly modest, the cost to take the exam is only $14. Johnson says that for less than $100 you can now acquire a handheld radio. At another prior field day, he recalls, “I gave a high school student a handheld radio and instructed her how to solicit contact from another Ham. She was thrilled to have made a connection with an operator in Colorado.” Of course, if you wish to secure a more conventional shortwave radio with an antenna, headphones, and a microphone, you’ll pay $600 or so and that could climb to thousands of dollars if you really want to get an advanced station set up.
For information about how to become a Ham radio operator contact Tim Johnson at K5TCJ@hotmail.com or by telephone at (972) 408-5499. Another ARRL Field Day will be held in Lucas in the Summer.