If you told this particular club that they were “such hams” or they were “hamming it up,” they would have to agree with you.
The West Desert Amateur Radio Club (WDARC) is their name and ham radio is their game — or, rather, their hobby. They meet every first Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. and every third Wednesday for Elmer’s night (a term for beginners) at the Tooele County Emergency Management (TCEM) building, kitty corner from the county building.
What is ham radio, you might ask? Ham radio, or amateur radio, has been around since 1909. It is used by all types of people as a way to communicate with anyone from the person next door to someone halfway around the world. The people involved in ham radio come from all walks of life, from doctors, teachers and students to truck drivers.
People of all ages are involved. The youngest licensed member of the WDARC is about 13 years old. WDARC president Lanea Price said she knows of a girl in Salt Lake City who is only 9, and she has even heard of a girl who is about 5 or 6. The important thing to remember is that ham radio is non-denominational and non-political.
One of the biggest and oldest clubs in the U.S. is the ARRL (American Radio Relay League), which bills itself as “fun, educational, and can be a lifeline during times of need.”
There are many stories of how “ham radio” got its name. It’s said the name comes from the initials of the pioneers of radio Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, Edwin Armstrong and Guglielmo Marconi. Others say “ham radio” comes from three students attending Harvard in 1911 who began their own small radio station to protest a bill that would give all amateur radio frequency use to the military only. Their last names were Hyman, Almy and Murray.
There is a thought that HAM is an acronym for the Home Amateur Mechanic magazine, or that it’s short for the Hammarlund products that were supposedly preeminent in the pioneering era of radio. The last story of how ham radio got its nickname is the term “ham operator” was used as a term for unskilled, amateur telegraph operators. When ham radio took the place of the telegraph, it was operated by these ham telegraphers and the nickname stuck.
Although ham radio is a hobby for most people, it has been used in some of the most extreme emergencies the U.S. has seen, and ordinary people have been called on to be trained to execute action for emergencies. According to ARRL.org, it was Amateur Radio Service that kept New York City agencies in touch with each other after their command center was destroyed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. When all other communication failed, ham radio came through for the agencies involved in Hurricane Katrina. In the Colorado floods of 2013, the fiber optic cable was taken out, taking out cell phone and internet connections with it. But because amateur radio uses frequencies beyond fiber optic cables, amateur radio saved the day.
Locally, the West Desert Amateur Radio club has helped search and rescue crews locate people on many occasions because radio frequencies reach farther and are less restrictive on area coverage then cell phones. Cell phone towers can also be tampered with or damaged more often than radio frequencies can be. During the Nepal earthquake in India, many of the city’s cell phone towers weren’t strong enough to endure the shaking and collapsed.
All ham radio operators must abide by a certain set of rules. First and foremost, you need to have a license. If you don’t have a license to be an operator, then you can only listen in on frequencies. If you try to talk, you will be fined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which frequently monitors the frequencies.
The second rule is that ham radio is for polite conversation. Radio operators take their turns, they don’t discuss subjects that cause debate, they are not to use radio frequencies as their own forum or radio program and they use certain frequencies that are different from AM, FM or CB frequencies, unless there are emergency situations.
The WDARC wants to get more people involved and encourages all to join the group, whether you are interested in being more prepared in the event of an emergency, you just want to help preserve an old but useful hobby or you would like to find a unique way of reaching out to people and making a vocal pen pal from a faraway place.
Price joined for emergency preparedness, but now finds it is a fun way for her family to keep in touch. She has encouraged her sons to get licenses and participate in ham radio themselves.
If you are interested in more information, you can contact Price at firstname.lastname@example.org and come and ham it up in a very fun and interesting way.