By Jeff Noble / Staff writer
In a video made in 2003 for the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the late journalist Walter Cronkite spoke about the public service done by amateur radio, or “ham radio” operators, during the dark day in our nation’s history that was September 11, 2001.
Cronkite, an amateur radio operator himself, said in their response, “Their country asked, and they responded without reservation.”
It’s the bond three ham radio operators have in common — to use amateur radio as a primary source to get the word out to those who can respond in times of crisis, to get more ham operators involved, and to get others to join the network.
On Tuesday, they talked about that service at the Corbin Fire Department headquarters on Main Street.
“During the ice storm we had about two or three years ago, the only thing working when the lines were down and the power was out was ham radio,” said Captain Tony Anders, a Corbin firefighter who lives in the Laurel County community of Keavy. Anders is the Coordinator for the Skywarn severe weather spotter program in Region 11, made up of Whitley, Laurel, Knox, Clay, Jackson, Rockcastle, Bell and McCreary counties.
“What makes this possible is that we can go on, because we have emergency power. People don’t understand that,” noted John Wayne White, the Emergency Coordinator for ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services) in Laurel County, who is also working on recruiting people to join the amateur radio force in his county.
“It’s about emergency communications. It’s to provide that information to the local, state and federal level,” stated Randall Gilreath, the Coordinator for ARES District 11, made up of Laurel, Whitley, Knox, McCreary, Bell, Clay, Jackson and Rockcastle counties.
During the interview with The Times-Tribune, Gilreath said in times of emergencies, the role amateur radio plays is an important, and unbroken chain.
“Fixed antenna systems and towers for communication, such as cell phone and microwave towers, can be damaged by storms, ice, wind and no power. We can send a signal with just a wire. A long wire and a transmitter behind that wire. We can fill that gap.”
In White’s case, a strong network of ham radio operators in Laurel County can help fill in the gap.
“My job is to recruit other amateurs in Laurel County to support me, and I can support those guys. We need those operators in my county. When we have a major catastrophe, we have to move emergency supplies and personnel fast.”
For Anders, when it comes to a strong amateur network in the county and the region, there is strength in numbers.
“If we can get other hams interested, active and helping out, they can help us out. First, when people get involved in ham radio and relay the information, it takes the pressure off 9-1-1 operators. And second, when we send the information to Frankfort, they can send out that information to more amateur radio operators. The more the better.”
“Because in Frankfort, the more information they have at their disposal, they can better utilize their resources,” Gilreath added.
The call to get people involved in amateur radio came after a recent Times-Tribune story about a repeater station being installed on the water tower at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park near Corbin and Williamsburg, which would provide VHF (Very High Frequency) communications for Southeastern and South Central Kentucky.
The repeater would link this area with the state Division of Emergency Management’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Frankfort. Installed by the United States Army MARS (Military Auxiliary Radio System), the repeater also works with Army MARS to provide military communications on a normal and emergency basis. Gilreath also hopes to get an ARES repeater alongside the MARS repeater, which would serve McCreary County with both ARES and Skywarn service.
Gilreath, Anders and White all pointed out there are three frequencies used by the services — HF (High Frequency, which is used for long-haul communications), and VHF (Very High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency). According to them, most local emergency services use the VHF and UHF frequencies.
The three also wanted to point out two important things about what they’re doing — what’s out there for first responders, and how to use amateur radio.
Gilreath said, “Basically we need to let our emergency management personnel know what’s at their disposal. You’ve got a lot of people who donate their time, their expenses, and their equipment to keep people informed and to operate in time of emergencies.”
“Ham radio’s more than a hobby. Talking to people on the radio’s great, but amateur radio operators can relay important information to someone else. If you want to do more, you can go on battery power and keep the system running when the infrastructure falls down. It’s all about helping each other,” Anders added.
White commented, “We’re professional. We don’t use profanity, and we have rules. We’re not CB (Citizens Band) Radio. And if you want to be one of us, you’ll need to get your license.”
There are three license classes in amateur or “ham” radio. The first is the “Technician”, or entry level class. The second is the “General” license, while the third is the “Advance Extra” License. White said the ARRL charges a fee of $15 to take the test, and they have Volunteer Examiner (VE) teams who can give you the exam.
“It’s an easy process now. You used to have to learn Morse Code. It’s encouraged, but it’s not mandatory anymore. And the license is free, and it’s for 10 years,” he noted.
More information about amateur radio can be obtained by going to the American Radio Relay League’s website at www.arrl.org.
In addition, Anders is working with students at South Laurel Middle School, teaching them about amateur radio, and hopes a ham station can be eventually added there in the future.
Better yet, White, Gilreath and Anders can be reached by other ham operators by their call identification signs, which are used like call letters for radio and television stations.
If you would like information on amateur radio or the Skywarn spotter program in District 11, you can contact Anders at his ham call sign, W4WXR.
For information on amateur radio in Laurel County or the county’s ARES program, contact White by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or his ham call sign, WA4UVD.
And for information on the ARES District 11 or Army MARS, contact Gilreath by email at email@example.com, or his ham call sign, AD4WB.