Hamming It Up

Amateur radio clubs provide essential information during emergencies … and lots of global chatter at other times.

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John Carr, first vice president of Tulsa Amateur Radio, works in the operations center.
Photo by Luke Oppenheimer

Ham radio – formally known as amateur radio – operators basically have two reasons to participate in their hobby: provide emergency communication during a disaster and have fun talking with people worldwide.

“Ham radio operators provide a critical communications link during natural disasters,” says Don Doyle, a Broken Arrow Amateur Radio Club member.

Ham operators are essential during severe weather and provide critical information to the National Weather Service, he says.

John Carr, first vice president of the Tulsa Amateur Radio Club, adds: “We’re more concerned about giving the NWS a clear view of what’s actually happening. We’re not doing it for TV ratings.”

Bart Pickens, president of the Tulsa Amateur Radio Club, says that “if there is a breakdown of the communication system, then ham radio systems can become the backup that will support either emergency communications or logistical communications.”

During weather emergencies, spotters go out on their own, Carr says.

“Say you have 10 guys living in the Stroud area,” he says. “Those 10 guys call stuff in as it comes close to them, and their positions can be stationary or mobile.”

It’s really cool to play the game on how far you can transmit on how low a power.

Doyle says he’s talked to people all over the United States, South America and Canada. Ham operators can also reach Europe and Japan, but that largely depends on atmospheric conditions.

“I think of it as a sport – no different than any other sport,” Connie Marshall, trustee of the Muskogee Amateur Radio Club, says. “For example, a contest might last 24 hours and you try to make as many ham contacts with other hams all over the world.”

In one such competition, Marshall says he talked to 1,200 people in the United States.

Carr says seeing how far a ham operator can talk with how little power is also a fun challenge.

“My best … is 30 watts talking with someone in Belgium,” says Carr, adding that English is the international language for ham operators. “It’s really cool to play the game on how far you can transmit on how low a power.”

Purchasing a ham radio can cost as little as $100 or as much as you want to spend, Pickens says.

A $100 ham would allow the operator to connect to a repeater site, but the operator would have a limited range due to the low power.

“If you want to go from there to a more powerful radio not limited in range or worldwide frequencies and you shopped real well, it could cost you between $300 and $500,” says Pickens, adding that some brands can cost up to $1,000.

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