Ham radio club both a hobby and a calling
With the stroke of a pen last Friday, Woodford Judge-Executive John Coyle and Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott proclaimed the week of June 19 to 24 as "Amateur Radio Week" in Woodford County. The proclamation reads, in part, "Amateur radio operators are always willing and ready to provide necessary communications to this community during times of need ..." In a sense, for the members of the Woodford County Amateur Radio Club, every week is Ham Radio Week. They operate three FM repeaters in the county for local amateur use and, when emergencies arise, stand ready to use their experience to help folks dependent on newer forms of communication like smart phones and computers. These days, the club has a membership of about 30, according to president Greg Shaw. They meet the first Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. in the basement at Versailles Fire Station #2 on Big Sink Road. They just began another technician class (the lowest of the three ham radio certifications overseen by the Federal Communications Commission), with five training sessions left and a follow-up for review before testing. Members cite different reasons for becoming interested in ham, also known as short-wave radio: fun, a new hobby, or, in Shaw's case, a link with his occupation. "I support electronic network infrastructures and stuff like that and computers, but it kind of works real close together with what my vocation is, so the hobby part is easy," Shaw said. "I do enjoy the radio portion of it. From the get-go, we were doing Sky Warn (a weather spotting class). That's one of the first things we did." Jerry Mueller said he got his first ham license in high school, back in the days when all beginners could send was Morse code. The group works regularly with the county Emergency Management (EM) department, too. Should disaster strike, with power outages leaving computers and cell phone towers useless, the hams can provide essential communication support until help arrives. "If all other communications fail, ham radio's the only thing that works," said Todd Rose. "We all have our own radio equipment - we don't need to depend on any other infrastructure to communicate with other people," said Mueller. In the meantime, they keep busy with other projects, like in February, when Shaw and Richard Jones spent several weeks helping members of Boy Scout Troop 43 earn their radio merit badges. Club members say they share a certain comradery with each other and ham radio enthusiasts around the world. In late May, Shaw attended the annual Hamfest in Xenia, Ohio - along with 29,295 other hams. Asked whether, after communicating over vast spaces for years, it was harder to speak in person, Shaw and others laughed. "They still talk on the radio, walking around," said Mueller.