The 2nd largest group of amateur radio operators per capita in the world make their home in Eastern Iowa

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When a derecho blowing winds of 80 to 100 miles per hour – and gusts of up to 140 miles per hour – hit eastern Iowa in August, about 400,000 Iowans were left without power and many did not have cell service.

That meant no TV news, no cable updates, and for many who rely heavily on cell phones rather than landlines, limited phone access.

The Cedar Valley Amateur Radio Club has a motto for this era: “When all else fails, radio.

“For some people it’s just a hobby, but for a lot of us it’s more than that,” said Scott Haney, president of the CVARC club.

Amateur radio operators are involved in emergency management, in the management of large events, in a wide variety of things. Often times people don’t know we’re there, but we’re actually a big part of planning and delivering many events and gatherings.

And in times of crisis – like the 2008 floods or the derecho in August – emergency management officers rely on amateur radio operators to relay information and maintain communications when other systems are down due to outages. electric.

“We need to be trained, we need licenses to do this kind of work,” said Haney, former emergency manager with the Iowa Amateur Radio Emergency Service. “Just having a radio won’t do it. You have to have someone who is competent to operate the system.

This includes training not only in emergency management, but also in adapting and sustaining when conditions are less than ideal.

“People don’t realize, especially during weather events like hurricanes, ham radio is a critical part of getting people in and out of dangerous areas,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for decades. “

Amateur radio – the nickname “amateur radio” dates back to the 19th century and the era of the telegraph – uses a wide spectrum of radio frequencies to communicate.

Some amateur radios operate on shortwave frequencies assigned by the Federal Communications Commission, also called “amateur bands” and located just above AM frequencies.

Unlike FM frequencies which are closer to Earth and have limited range, the amateur bands bounce off the Earth’s ionosphere from the transmitter to an antenna, giving them a much longer range. In fact, many enthusiasts enjoy the camaraderie of being able to talk to local friends as well as connect with others across the world.

Many operators and clubs use frequencies close to those used by television and radio stations, as well as those close to certain police radar frequencies.

To use an amateur radio, you must pass a written test and receive a unique call sign from the FCC. Until a few years ago, you also had to learn Morse code, but the FCC has removed this requirement.

Several local clubs offer a beginner’s course to learn more and take the exam. It is possible to start for less than $ 100.

Although it is called “amateur” radio, Haney is quick to make an important distinction.

“The problem with amateur radio is that using the word ‘amateur’ doesn’t mean we don’t know what we’re doing,” he said. “This means that we are not allowed to be paid for our services. Already. Everything we do is voluntary. We can’t take a dime for all of this.

What they do is up to the club and each member, Haney said. Many members of the Cedar Valley Amateur Radio Club are active in a variety of activities. In early November, for example, members hosted the Pleasant Creek Trail Run, setting up along the course and helping to follow the runners.

Haney has been a licensed amateur radio operator for almost 40 years, obtaining his first license in 1982 while visiting his grandparents during his second year at university. He had always been interested in radio, and that interest was reinforced by the father of a high school friend, a US Air Force civilian worker who was an amateur radio operator.

“My friend’s dad showed me that you can get involved in radio without doing it for a living,” Haney said.

He became more involved and during this 1982 trip to visit his grandparents in Gary, Indiana, he took a train to the Federal Communications Commission office in Chicago.

“I took the test and got my license,” he said.

He graduated from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana with an engineering degree and worked for 30 years at Rockwell Collins, now Collins Aerospace, before retiring in 2019.

Although Collins Aerospace is the main reason Cedar Rapids is home to the second largest group of amateur radio operators per capita in the world, Haney did not work in radio or communications. It is, he said, something he did outside of work.

As President of the Cedar Valley Radio Club, Haney helps organize open house type events that allow people to ask questions and learn more about amateur radio and the club. A popular program each year is the Weather Observer Training which the club hosts with the National Weather Service. The annual event will likely be a virtual event in early 2021 due to continued COVID-19 restrictions.

“There were a lot of registrations for the meteorology course in 2009 after the floods,” Haney said. “I don’t know what we’ll see this year.

Although not all who register are amateur radio operators, participants are introduced to amateur radio and how it can be used in everyday life.

“For some people, it’s just a hobby. For others, it’s more than that, ”he said. “It’s just a big field for people with very broad interests.”

To learn more about amateur radio basics, see the CVARC website, w0gq.org/licensing.

Want to learn more about amateur radio?

Check out these clubs in Eastern Iowa:

Cedar Valley Amateur Radio Club Cedar Rapids: w0gq.org Collins Amateur Radio Club Cedar Rapids For Collins Aerospace employees and retirees: w0cxx.us Iowa City Amateur Radio Club Iowa City: icarc.org Jones Anamosa County Amateur Radio Club: qsl.net/w0cwp Amateur Radio Club Muscatine Muscatine: muscatinearc.org Washington Washington Area Amateur Radio Club: waarc.net Northeast Iowa Waterloo Amateur Radio Association: w0mg.net Eastern Iowa DX Association For those interested in DX (short for communicating with remote stations) and contests: eidxa.org

Find more amateur radio clubs in Iowa via the National Association for Amateur Radio website: arrl.org/find-a-club

Amateur radio enthusiast Scott Haney poses for a photo at his Cedar Rapids home on Thursday, December 3, 2020 (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)

Amateur radio enthusiast Scott Haney poses for a photo at his Cedar Rapids home on Thursday, December 3, 2020 (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)


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