MUSCATINE, Iowa — There's always a chance of losing electricity during natural disasters and other emergency situations.
So if your internet or phone isn't working, how are you supposed to call for help? There's always ham radio; but despite the name of their group, some local operators are no amateurs when it comes to using it.
For a 24-hour period, starting at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 22, and lasting until 1 p.m. Sunday June 23, the Muscatine Amateur Radio Club will demonstrate the radio's emergency capabilities. The demonstration takes place at 2701 170th St., just north of Muscatine on Iowa Highway 38. The public is invited to this free event to see what amateur — or ham — radio can do.
Tom Brehmer, with Muscatine's Amateur Radio Club, said the club holds the demonstration on the third weekend of June each year. The demonstration also partners as a contest, of sorts. Brehmer explained that the club will communicate with ham radios across the country and will keep count of how many stations they contact during the 24-hour period.
More than just people keeping in touch, amateur radio operators provide valuable service, said Brehmer, In the past, the club has provided storm spotting for the National Weather Service.
"We've also provided communication during RAGBRAI," Brehmer said.
Even though ham radios aren't in use as much anymore because of cell phones, that doesn't mean there aren't still people out there who use them. There are more than 700,000 amateur radio licensees in the United States and more than 2.5 million around the world. Through the National Association for Amateur Radio, ham radio volunteers provide both emergency communications for thousands of state and local emergency response agencies, as well as non-emergency community services, all for free.
As far as how the term came about, it actually predates radio, going back to the days of telegraph operators. Poor operators who would jam signals were derisively called hams, in the vernacular of the time (ham-fisted, ham actor, etc.). The term was eventually co-opted by the operators themselves and has since lost much of its original meaning.
"With the demonstration, we show how we set things up during emergency situations, showcasing what we do, while not connected to a utility grid, with portable antennas," Brehmer said. "Ham radio was useful in Joplin, Mo., and recently in Oklahoma [during the tornadoes]"
Brehmer said the local group consists of about 22 members, ranging in age from their mid-30s to the eldest, just under 80-years-old. During meetings, which take place the second Monday of the month in the upper lever conference room of the Musser Public library, 304 Iowa Ave., the club talks about planning for the field demonstration, plan for Ham Fest in the fall and "a lot of time members bring in projects they've assembled."