Archive for Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hams share tricks of their trade

June 21, 2007


Ham radio operator Ken Olson operates his radio station, which is inside a converted garage. Olson and several other area amateur radio operators will exhibit their radio stations and equipment on Saturday and Sunday at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds. Olson communicated with listeners on Wednesday in his garage.

Ham radio operator Ken Olson operates his radio station, which is inside a converted garage. Olson and several other area amateur radio operators will exhibit their radio stations and equipment on Saturday and Sunday at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds. Olson communicated with listeners on Wednesday in his garage.

Ham radio

Ham radio operator Ken Olson talks about operating his station. Enlarge video

Amateur radio broadcasters, also known as hams, have communicated with and informed people all over the world for nearly a century.

Starting with Morse code and now moving into digital audio, one Lawrence man has used most of this technology and hopes to share his knowledge with the community at the annual Field Day, which culminates the national Amateur Radio Week.

The event will start at 1 p.m. Saturday in Building 2 at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds, 19th and Haskell, and will last 24 hours until Sunday.

Ken Olson, of Lawrence, who has been operating ham radios since 1951, and several other area amateur radio operators will exhibit their radio stations and equipment as well as make contact with as many other hams in the United States and Canada as they can this weekend.

There are about 250 ham radio licenses and 50 active members of the Lawrence/Douglas County Amateur Radio Club, which sponsors the annual event, said club member Debbie Liddel.

Olson said that in past years, area operators have contacted as many as 300 operators across the country. They use a variety of methods to contact these people, including Morse code.

"Back in the older days, your first license was a learner's license and everybody was required to use Morse code," Olson said. "There are still a lot of people that are bound and required to use Morse code, but there are also people that use digital audio and other newer equipment."

He said ham radios are relatively inexpensive and are not hard to find. To get started, all that's needed is a simple radio and antenna, which can be purchased for less than $100 on the Internet or at vendors in the Kansas City area and St. Joseph, Mo.

"It's very inexpensive, in a way," Olson said. "But over a period of time, you build up equipment and eventually a whole station."

Olson has a mobile ham radio station, as well as a shed brimming with equipment he has purchased over the years.

He said he got into ham radio because of his high school physics teacher, who operated some radio equipment at the school. Olson said he always played around with radios and other electronics as a kid and eventually picked up ham radio as a hobby.

Since then, Olson has spent countless hours reporting on local races and the weather, making contact with people from California to New England, and making small talk with other local hams, which is mostly what he does these days.

"When you want to talk, you just press the button and someone's usually there to talk," he said.

Liddel said amateur radios can be important in emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina and the Greensburg tornado.

"It just depends on what happens," Liddel said. "If you go along around here when nothing happens, it's just for fun, but during events like Katrina and Greensburg, cell phones don't work and the Internet doesn't work, but radios do."

For Olson, though, it's always been for fun.

"It's something new every day and it's something you could do 24 hours a day," Olson said.


Bruce Liddel 10 years, 6 months ago

This is a great event, and a great way to become involved in amateur radio yourself. There are many stories of people who have survived perilous circumstances only because they previously learned about amateur radio, became licensed, and acquired suitable equipment.

Some very minor corrections:

Amateur radio operators do not "broadcast". Only two-way communications are permitted by regulations, so we "transmit" but never "broadcast".

There are about 250 active ham radio license-holders in Douglas county, about 200 of which have Lawrence postal addresses.

There are still a lot of people (myself included) that like to use Morse code, however, there is no longer ANY requirement for learning or using Morse Code.

In past years during the annual 24-hour field-day exercise, the club has collectively contacted 1000s of other stations across the country. The number of contacts made in the time allowed is seen as an indication of the skill of the operators, and thus is a measure of the group's ability to perform emergency communications under less than perfect circumstances.

Disasters happen. When all else fails: amateur radio! Learn more by visiting, or come out to field day yourself, and make your own first radio contact!

compmd 10 years, 6 months ago

I learned about amateur radio from my old high school physics teacher. I have a set that's almost 50 years old, and it works great. Watching the driver tubes warm up on the transmitter is a beautiful sight. Its reassuring to know that when all our fancy communications networks fail, amateur radio will still be there.

pearlgirl 10 years, 6 months ago

i am learning about this hobby, this is a great way of communication and my very dear friend bearded_gnome is helping me with it. but still i just don't know from where to start because i don't know anyone in this area who could help. but i will keep trying with the help of my friend. so gnome, are you also planing to participate in this event?

bearded_gnome 10 years, 6 months ago

yes, pearlgirl, I'll be there for some of saturday. this is a really fun event, and there truly is nothing like it. one goal of field day is exactly that, emergency preparedness, to practice setting up antennas and power in emergency circumstances. in past years this event has been operated locally at Wells Overlook. from there, using VHF, one year we communicated very comfortably with Gitmo using simple voice and a good antenna.

black_watch 10 years, 5 months ago

Amateur radio is great. I fully support the hobby as a means for emergency and non-critical hobby communications, for service to the community, and for providing a broad and interesting spectrum (hah) of science education, including geopolitics and geography, meteorology, physics, astronomy, communications skills, and electrical engineering. You can learn a lot just by listening all over the airwaves, too; from international shortwave radio to microwave satellite links that permeate the air, all publically accessible if you have the time, inclination, and a little bit of know-how that anyone can pick up with a little textbook help.

There are hundreds of thousands of individuals, groups and institutions out there transmitting and broadcasting signals, all out just waiting to be heard. The usual music, news, talkshows, and evangelism even, sure; but also: governments, secret codes of unknown origin ('numbers stations', they're called), publically accessible weather satellites you can download pictures and even live radar from, military activities (anything important tends to be encrypted - no need to worry about bad guys listening), airplanes and airports, police, fire, medical, race cars, coastal navigation systems and coast guard if you're near water, and, of course, the amateur 'ham' radio operators chattering away or having their regular contests, and even clandestine "pirate" stations, too. It's all out there to listen to and participate in, and lots more. The radio spectrum really is amazing. Ham radio got me into it all.

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