By Stephanie Malench
Madison County has a little known group of heroes that are on the front lines of events from natural disasters to charity races. There are over 700 Amateur and Ham Radio licenses to individuals throughout Madison County.
The oldest active radio club in the county and third oldest in the United States is the Egyptian Radio Club, founded in 1929. The group has approximately 100 members and usually meets at Holy Family Catholic Church in Granite City.
The other ham club in Madison County is the Lewis and Clark radio club which has about 125 members and was founded in 1985. They usually meet on campus at Lewis and Clark Community College.
Amateur radio operators have their own radio frequencies they can communicate on using a small transmitter and Yagi antennae that communicate with specific satellites. They also use Morse code, slow scan TV, and are starting to work with new technology.
The high-speed mesh network will stream videos. Once the clubs on the St Louis side of the region get permission to set up equipment on buildings, the Madison County groups will begin setting up and using the service.
To get started in ham radio, Bob Evans, Emergency Coordinator for the Madison County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) sponsored by the American Radio League (ARL), explains there are different tests that a person has to take to participate in different levels of the hobby. There are 35 questions and a 70% is required to pass each level.
The fee is $15 per test or $15 to take all three at the same time. All money goes to the ARL. A license is good for 10 years and the ham only needs to ask to renew. No additional fees or tests required.
The technical test goes over the basic rules, regulations and safety needed to access the VHF and UHF frequencies for local communications.
The general test is more technical and covers electronics and math. This test allows the ham to access most of the HF frequencies needed to talk around the world.
The highest level is the extra class. This test covers more math and regulations and allows the ham to be a test examiner at all levels.
One of the more fun aspects of the hobby is helping students in schools to talk to astronauts in the Space Station. Anyone with a radio can talk to the astronauts if the satellite is in the right position and they have their radios turned on.
Ham radio operators also perform serious work. During emergencies, ham operators are the critical link between emergency service workers and those in need of help. American Red Cross forms can be sent through radio email (without internet) to a regular email address.
Auxcomm volunteers are certified to use the state Starcomm system if no paid staff are able to respond in a timely manner. Ham radio communications are essential when state and county response systems are overloaded.
Each year ham radio operators work with other volunteers with SKYWARN National Weather Service Storm Spotting Program. Evans said “anytime there is a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning affecting Madison County we run a radio net and we relay any severe weather reports to St. Louis National Weather Service”.
The last time hams were deployed in an emergency was during the 2015 flood in Granite City. The volunteers connected Red Cross shelters in Granite City, St. Louis, and communities down stream.
More volunteers are needed for these crucial missions. To get connected with a ham club or group, email Bob Evans at [email protected]