From their headquarters in Jacksonville, amateur radio aficionados tune in to the world


Some may call it ham radio, but ham radio enthusiasts do a lot more than just chew the grease while on the air.

“When I took the (licensing) test, they shook my hand and said, ‘Welcome to the hobby,'” said Jacksonville Amateur Radio Society treasurer Tom Phillips. “I didn’t think too much about the ‘hobby’. I was thinking about emergency communications. … It is a hobby and a (public) service.

It’s an indication of the scope of the hobby, Phillips said.

“There are all kinds of directions you can take,” he said. “It’s like gardening – what are you going to grow in your garden? All sorts of things.

Some club members go so far as to build their own radios and antennas, while others may be happy to purchase a small, inexpensive portable radio.

“I like to come and listen to them talk, but I don’t even have a radio,” said club member Wayne VanBebber, who lives near Nortonville.

Despite a life spent around radios, club member Reggie Huddleston of Murrayville also gets by without owning one, in part because he doesn’t have one of the three licenses the Federal Communications Commission requires before a person can legally transmit on the radio.

About a dozen club members spent the afternoon of June 25 at the community park, their radio equipment being set up for International Day on the grounds of the Amateur Radio Relay League.

“You know how the churches had an annual picnic?” Phillips said. “We bring our families, bring food, we’re on the air and have set up a PR table. We want to interact with people.

And they did.

Jacksonville member Mike Mayberry spent much of Saturday sitting in front of a radio set-up spread out on a folding table near the large gazebo in the park, using Morse code to communicate with other amateur radio enthusiasts attending the day on the terrain of other parts of the country or, perhaps, of the world.

“I guess they had contacts not just in the United States but overseas,” Phillips said. “They can make contacts thousands of miles away.”

The club earned points for every contact made by Mayberry – and 100 bonus points for using solar power to power equipment, which became particularly relevant in 2017 when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. , leaving the islands without much infrastructure, including electricity. .

“The (American) Red Cross recruited volunteer radio amateurs to go there and set up communications,” Phillips said, noting that the volunteers then had to figure out how to power their equipment.

Events like field day help club members stay prepared for such emergencies, Phillips said.

“In an emergency situation, when the power goes out, cell phones will be cut off soon after,” he said. “Most relay antennas only have a few days of autonomy. Amateur radio operators plan for this kind of thing. We have ways of charging the batteries we use our radios on – or solar panels – when the power is on. We are almost always able to maintain communications.

The K9JX signal repeaters that the club maintains above Beecher High Rise also have a generator that runs on diesel in the event of a power outage.

“I could talk with a portable radio on very low power, but the repeater could hear me and send it on high power,” Phillips said. “Then it goes into a much wider range. If I can reach the repeater, it will send this (signal) 60 or 70 miles. Someone in Hannibal, Missouri speaks regularly on our relay.

“But our radios can always do without the repeater. We can talk radio to radio and we practice that on Wednesday evenings. Everyone (on Wednesdays) is supposed to try out their radios in emergency configuration. Maybe they are away from home and connecting to the “net” from there. The idea is that we constantly train for emergency situations.

And have fun along the way.

Alongside field days, so-called fox hunts, where a transmitter is hidden and participants – no license required – use their skills to triangulate the signal it sends and find the transmitter, also allow them to train in an emergency, Phillips said.

The skill can come into play if, for example, a person with a medical condition wears a device that emits a signal. Knowing how to triangulate this signal can help find the missing person.

Rather than removing the need for amateur radio, the Internet has been brought into the mix, with many focusing their radio interests on how radios and computers can work together.

This includes the International Space Station, which sends out what is called a slow-scan television signal about once a month.

“You tune to the right (radio) frequency, record what they’re transmitting, record the sound,” Phillips said. “…The computer has software to decode it, and when you decode it, there’s a picture.”

There are also apps for amateur radio enthusiasts. A book called “The Repeater Book” listed all repeaters across the United States. Now it is a cell phone based application.

“Let’s say you’re going to take a vacation in Arizona,” Phillips said. “You could program all the repeaters along the route into your radio. If someone is listening, they can very easily talk to someone” during the whole trip.

In addition to its Wednesday night workouts and 7 p.m. meetings on the first Friday of every month at Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf, where Phillips is pastoring, the club also runs a Saturday night “net”.

“A network is something like a chat room,” Phillips said. “We are all going to listen to our relay at the same time on Saturday evening. The first thing we do is check for emergency traffic. Then I ask people to register.

Club members enjoy the group’s social interaction, but it’s so much more than that, starting with maintaining the club stint, Phillips said.

“It’s a pretty big responsibility because it’s not just for our club but for the whole region,” he said.

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