Broaden your world; become a ham

by Renée Hunter

Amateur radio aficionados have existed since the invention of Morse code, and some current hams — as they call themselves — still broadcast only in Morse code, according to Glenn King, a long-time member of the 119-member Faulkner County Amateur Radio Club.

Other hams broadcast only in a digital format. Between these extremes are those who choose to talk, but only to other hams in certain locations. Some, King said, use only lower frequency bandwidths that allow them to reach the other side of the world. Some use the repeater system to talk to those nearby. Some are collectors — talking to hams who live in certain locations. Some collect states, some countries. One ham has collected all the counties in all the states in the United States; it has taken him more than 30 years.

“It’s a very wide, diverse hobby,” said Pat Thomas, club president. “You talk into a microphone and halfway across the world somebody can hear you — that’s with no cell towers, no Internet service provider and no dependence on anyone else’s network or systems.”   

That’s one big draw of the hobby; another is the opportunity to tinker with the radio equipment.

King is the old man of the 55-year-old club. A member since 1966, he serves as mentor to the club’s newbies.

“Electronics was my starting-out hobby when I was about 13 or 14,” he said. After getting interested in ham radio, “I’d rush in after school [and talk on the radio] until it was time to do my chores.”

Greg Lindstrom, a relative newbie, was involved in Citizen’s Band Radio for years, but when CB talk “got vulgar,” he switched to ham radio.

Lindstrom points out that hams, in general, and club members, in particular, are a diverse and broad-minded group. Because they talk to people with many different views, they tend to have a wider view of the world.   

Ham radio “makes me feel how small my views are,” he said.

King agrees: “I was a lot better informed [early] than most people in the world.”

“Ham radio operators that have been in the hobby for any length of time — they live in a bigger bubble,” Thomas agreed, adding that learning more about other cultures — growing that bubble — lends itself to staying in the hobby.

Amateur radio is a good hobby for those who want to “grow their bubble.”

“You don’t need to be a technical wizard to get into the hobby — that’s a misconception,” Thomas said. “Anybody can do it with enough ‘want to’ and the help of local hams.”

Besides being a fun hobby, amateur radio also has an important public role. When an emergency shuts down cell and television reception and electricity, “the first people talking are the hams,” King said, because their equipment is battery- or solar-powered. “We will deploy with all of our equipment.”

Ham radio can be the only way to track storms on the ground.

“They’re the true eyes of what happens out there,” said Thomas, who was one of the many “storm trackers” during the April 2014 tornado that hit Faulkner County. “Radar doesn’t always show what’s just above, or actually on, the ground.”

Listening to ham radio on a scanner, as the television meteorologists do, is the fastest, if not the only, way to get information such as the location and amount of damage and the help needed.

“That’s why the ham radio motto is ‘when all else fails, there’s ham radio,’” King said.    

In order to prepare for emergencies, club members participate in public events such as bike races and runs. They place themselves and their equipment at different positions along the race route so they can let the race coordinators know the locations of the racers and alert them to any emergencies that arise.

Amateur radio is defined as the use of designated radio frequency spectra for purposes of private recreation, non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training and emergency communication.

“Amateur means ‘non-commercial,’” said member Kelly Boswell. “It does not mean unprofessional.”

For those who are interested in joining, the club meets at 11 a.m. each Monday and Friday and on Wednesday evenings at 5 p.m. for a tech night at Smitty’s on Harkrider Street in Conway, or check out To learn even more about amateur radio visit