ROCKINGHAM — When members of the Richmond County Amateur Radio Club — also known as ham operators — attend public events such as the Hamlet Seaboard Festival, people ask them what they broadcast.
“Yeah because when we refer to our radio stations, they automatically think we’re broadcasters,” said club president Mark Dawkins. “Or they sometimes confuse us with citizens band. When the general public looks at us when we’re at events, we don’t have time enough to explain the difference in CB radio and what we do.”
Allan Brown, the club’s secretary and treasurer, said one distinction is that amateur radio operators and people communicating on CB use entirely different frequencies.
“We’re licensed by the FCC, and we have to pass a test. Citizens band doesn’t require licenses,” said club member Ben Setzer.
According to the FCC website, “an individual license is not required to operate a CB station and the FCC does not renew formerly issued CB Radio Service licenses.”
Brown said that knowledge of Morse code was once tested in amateur radio examinations.
“Although Morse code is no longer a license requirement, the number of people learning it increases monthly because of clubs like Straight Key Century Club, with over 15,700 members growing at the rate of 500 new members a year,” he said. “Members only communicate with other members via Morse code.”
The RCARC has 17 members and some members are trained and licensed to administer the FCC tests.
“To belong to our club, you don’t have to have a license,” Dawkins said. “But we do encourage it. But the club is for anyone interested in radio communications.”
Brown, one of the club members who gives the tests, said there are three license classes: technician, general, and extra.
“The technician is the entry level license with the general and extra being more advanced and allowed more operating frequencies,” he said. “And you can’t even legally purchase this radio equipment without a license.”
Butch Parris said one thing that makes ham useful in emergency situations is that the equipment is easy to operate during power outages.
“This radio will run on a car battery,” he said. “You can take my radio, go out there and sit it out in the yard and just hook a car battery to it and throw a wire up in that tree, connected to that radio, and you can talk and it will work.”
Dawkins said the club has started more than once.
“It actually started in the ’70s and was very active for years,” he said. “And then somewhere in the mid-’90s it just kind of fell apart.”
“The Internet arrived,” Parris added.
Dawkins said that he, Setzer and Parris still met even during the club’s downtime, and that later the club was revived.
“We’re like a family,” Dawkins said. “Sometimes you get on there and talk to someone for years and never see a face. But you get to know their family, their children. You follow them through school, and it’s just a small piece of the pie.”
Dawkins explained that a license enables operators to communicate with people in places they might never reach except by radio.
“I’ve often said it would take a couple of lifetimes and multiple truckloads of money to actually experience everything that your license will allow you to do,” he said. “That’s how much is out there.”
RCARC meets at 9:30 a.m. on the 2nd Saturday of each month at the Thomas H. Leath Memorial Library in Rockingham. For more information visit the club’s official website at www.k4rnc.org or call 910-206-4210.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.