WALKER — John King Jr. and his son, Morgan, tossed a 16-foot-long wire into a nearby tree Saturday morning. Next they connected that wire to a second one hooked to a radio set neatly tucked into the trunk of Morgan’s car.
The father-and-son team were getting ready for the Livingston Parish Amateur Radio Society’s field day, part of a worldwide effort allowing amateur radio operators to hone their skills and demonstrate to the public their ability to communicate with other ham operators around the world while out in the field away from the traditional power grid.
The Livingston group gathered Saturday and Sunday at Walker’s Parks and Recreation Challenger to demonstrate to the public their ability to communicate with other ham operators around the world while out in the field away from the traditional power grid.
The group holds its annual Field Day on the same weekend every year, a time set aside by the American Radio Relay League Inc., to demonstrate the unique communication possibilities of amateur radio broadcasting. Louisiana’s Governor John Bel Edwards proclaimed the week of June 20-26 as Amateur Radio Week in the state.
John King Sr., of Walker, president of the society, a retired attorney and a lifelong devotee of amateur radio, said his group takes pride in its ability to showcase their skills and how that knowledge can be of practical use in times of emergencies. Being able to provide communications during emergencies is one of the central reasons most pursue the hobby.
“People today have more ways of communicating than ever before with cellular phones, the internet and other devices,” King said. “However, if a disaster strikes and the power is shut down, such as during Katrina and other storms, those ways of communicating will not work. We have the capability of being able to serve as the voice of the community and the ability to reach responders without having to rely on the systems we use every day,” he said.
Members of the society met early Saturday morning to set up their antennas and radio sets to begin the day. To power their equipment, the operators use compact generators that give them all the electricity they need. Some of the sets are run on batteries enabling the operators to send and receive messages even without a generator.
King explained how the process works.
“We tied the wire to a wrench, threw it up in the trees, and we were in business,” John King Sr. said. Morgan was operating his radio set with power from a generator but said that it would also work off the car’s battery.
Other members of the team rigged antennas in different fashions but all demonstrated the ability to send and receive signals. Those skills have practical applications in the event of disasters that deny communities the electrical power that drives all communications devices, no matter how modern or sophisticated.
King recalled that during Hurricane Camille, he and his wife Barbara, who is also a licensed ham operator, drove to the Gulf Coast, were sent to the Hancock County Hospital, and remained there for three days providing links to emergency care providers outside of the area. “Part of it was gruesome … we were asked to check on the morgue regularly so they could find out the toll of victims. We did whatever was asked of us and performed a great service,” he remembered.
“We have to be ready to be the voice of our community if disaster strikes,” King said. “Today, if something happens and the power goes off, almost everybody suffers from technological withdrawal … as a society we have become so dependent on regular radio, television, computers and cell phones. Ham radio operators won’t suffer … they will be able to still communicate no matter what.”
King said that when the traditional grid goes down, society virtually stops. “Nobody wants to accept the potential dangers that come with disasters, but they should and they should be prepared to deal with whatever happens that disrupts everyday life,” he said.
Bobby Achord, a member of the radio society, echoed King’s sentiments.
“I’ve become something of a ‘prepper,’ someone who is prepared for whatever might happen,” Achord said. “I’m not interested in being part of a militia. I just want to be prepared for anything and everything. I have sons and family out of this area and have been exploring other means of communicating with them during or after a disaster. After extensive research, I decided that becoming a ham operator would give me another means of communicating with my family plus allow me to monitor information all over the world to know what is currently happening even in other countries.”
Achord said ham radio operators require a license, but they’re easy to get. “This isn’t quite as daunting as it seems, especially considering you don’t need to learn Morse code anymore. But it still requires some studying,” he said.
Aspiring ham radio operators can take the licensing test from King who is certified to administer the 35-question test. King said that an aspiring operator must answer 26 of the questions correctly to become a technician. Operators can attain advanced rankings of general and extra class.
Achord said he learned about the Livingston Parish Amateur Radio Society and after making inquiries, decided to join the group.
“Everyone was very friendly, very helpful and they encouraged me to get my license. My go al is to incorporate ham radio into my communications system so that I will never be without a way to reach out to my family and others,” he said.
Early ham radio enthusiasts had to rely on Morse code until voice transmission was made possible many years ago. Some operators use both Morse code and voice messaging. For example, Richie Guthrie, of Denham Springs, had his Morse code set wired and ready for communicating.
While the emphasis with most ham operators is their ability to perform public service during an emergency, the hobbyists who pursue amateur radio list many other reasons for being involved in the medium. The American Radio Relay League Inc., the national organization that is the voice of most ham operators, lists the following “adventures” that radio operators can pursue: talk around the world without the internet; explore wireless technology; talk with astronauts onboard the International Space Station; use the radio to help in the community; talk to Boy Scouts around the world during the International Jamboree on the Air; and use portable radios to communicate when camping or hiking.
The AARL estimates that there are about 750,000 amateur radio enthusiasts in the United States. This group includes operators as young as 5 or 6 years old, according to the AARL.
Asked how the term “ham operator” came into general use, King said he wasn’t sure but thought that it was a corruption of the word “amateur.” “I guess someone started saying ‘hamateur’ and the name came from that,” he ventured.
King said that being a ham radio operator is a great hobby that can last a lifetime. He said that he enjoys collecting different radios, especially very old sets, and that he had a couple of “rooms full of radios and equipment with a lot of it from World War II days.”
Getting into radio does not have to be expensive. Small, hand-held devices can be purchased for as little as $40. A wide variety of radio transmitters and receivers and many related items are available from many sources.
“Being a ham radio operator is a great experience and a great teaching tool,” King Sr. said. “No young person should be denied the opportunity to explore being an amateur radio operator. Learning about radio … how it works and its capabilities … is very rewarding. Radio can open many doors and can encourage those who get into it to learn about science.”
His grandson, Morgan, a senior at Live Oak High School and a ham operator, said he wants to pursue a career as a computer cyber engineer. He said working with radio has sparked his interest in electronics.
Achord invited anyone interested in becoming an amateur radio operator to join his group.
“The older members have the expertise and they are willing to teach the newer members,” he said. “Ham operating is not only fun but it’s also a very valuable tool … it’s a way to enjoy a great hobby while having the ability to serve your community if and when the time comes and emergency communications are needed. I’d recommend it to everyone.”