You’d think that with all the computers in homes, all the smartphones in the hands of everybody from children through senior citizens, all the internet, the world wide web, the forums and blogs and Twitter and Facebook and email and chat boxes and social media, there would be absolutely no interest in an old-time hobby like ham radio.

You’d think that with all the computers in homes, all the smartphones in the hands of everybody from children through senior citizens, all the internet, the world wide web, the forums and blogs and Twitter and Facebook and email and chat boxes and social media, there would be absolutely no interest in an old-time hobby like ham radio.
“We saw a dip,” Steve Miller, a former president of the Rolla Regional Amateur Radio Society, acknowledged on a cool Sunday morning in late June after having stayed up all night contacting other ham radio operators worldwide for the annual Field Day.
That dip in ham radio interest occurred at the beginning of the home computer era when the technically minded who would have gone into the various facets of ham radio instead began exploring computers and the codes that operated them.
After all, ham radio is perceived as being a bunch of people, mostly guys, who sit around and talk to one another by yacking on a microphone and listening to others on the radio. A lot of what they talk about are radios. Computers might seem a lot more interesting, especially to young people.
“But we’re now seeing a resurgence,” he said, and there is renewed interest in everything from operating Morse code stations to voice transmissions to digital transmissions that combine computers and radios.
And there are a number of reasons for that resurgence.
“There’s a lot of interest in emergency preparedness,” Miller said. That interest can combine radio with power generation, as evidenced by the solar panels that were used during the Field Day exercise. The solar panels charged batteries that powered the radios and computers. “A lot of our members keep batteries topped off and ready to go in case of an emergency.”
Another attraction is the combination of technologies, as already mentioned. Amateur radio today can include the radios, of course, plus solar power and computing.
And many Missouri University of Science and Technology students have amateur radio licenses because of the technical appeal, plus some are involved in conducting electronic research that requires a license, Miller said.
During the June Field Day exercise, the club offered testing for licenses and five people passed those tests to become amateur radio operators, Miller said. Quarterly testing sessions also are offered.
Speaking of testing, the Field Day exercise was a test itself of the club’s ability to set up equipment in a “remote” area and operate under “adverse” conditions. The area chosen was at the back of Lions Club Park. This year, the conditions were not all that adverse.
“It was a beautiful weekend,” Miller acknowledged, for the temperature was moderate and the sky was mostly clear. “And we’re right here on the lake.”
Indeed, at the far pavilion, next to the lake, the club had set up three tents. Inside one, operators worked what hams call CW, which stands for continuous wave, indicating that the radio sends a signal continuously, but it is broken up into “dots” and “dashes” or “dits” and “dahs.”
Another tent had voice communication, an operator at a radio microphone, talking to other operators and listening to them either with headphones or speakers.
A third tent had the digital communication, a combination of radio and computer. Peter Price, public relations representative for the club, who was operating the digital communications setup, explained that the radio used CW routed through the computers sound card.
Software allows the operator to type in a message and that is translated into Morse code; conversely, the received Morse code is translated by the software into text that is readable on the computer screen. It looks a lot like email.
Other buttons on the screen allow the operator to send pre-written messages automatically. During the contest, the software could filter out the call signs to see if the stations had already communicated with one another.
Outside each tent was a solar panel. Each tent also had large deep-cycle batteries.
Wire antennas ran from the radios up to the trees. These amateur radio enthusiasts likely all have large antenna arrays on poles at home, but for this emergency exercise and contest, they had to rely on a simple wire. The purpose of the exercise was to make as many contacts as possible in 24 hours. Ham radio enthusiasts around the country were contacting one another in the contest sponsored by the American Radio Relay League in the United States and Canada.
The conversations with those other hams were short, whether in code, voice or data.
“We’re just doing quick exchanges,” Miller said. The Rolla operators were giving their contacts this information: 3 Alpha, Mike Oscar. That let them know there were three transmitting stations operating with emergency power by a club from Missouri.
The club meets monthly and more information can be found on the club’s website at www.rrars.org.
The current president is Louis McCarthy, and the club meets at Phelps County Regional Medical Center, in one of the dining rooms.
Because of the emergency nature of ham radio, the radio club and the hospital work closely together. The club has a “repeater station” atop the Medical Office Building. Ham radio operators are members of the hospital’s emergency operations center.
Each club member networks on one of the radio bands, which is also a way to keep emergency operations sharp.
Although it is not a social club, there is plenty of time for socializing, too.
“We had a nice barbecue Saturday night,” Miller said.