Hobbyist radio club offers licensing class
Club takes new approach to teaching Ham radio with hands-on learning
FAIRVIEW – The Skyline Amateur Radio Club (SARC) is making some serious contributions to the community through their hobby, and you can get in on the fun and prepare yourself for an emergency in the process.
The most recent way the club is giving back to Sanpete is by offering a free class in emergency communications aimed at preparing any interested citizen to use the extensive radio repeater systems throughout Utah.
Jack Pemberton, ham operator and organizer of the class, says, “The majority of Sanpete residents either don’t know about these repeaters or don’t realize they must have a license to use them—and the difference they can make in an emergency is huge.”
The upcoming class will be offered on Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. at the Fairview City fire station, beginning tonight. Pemberton says the first class will include a brief discussion of the available means of emergency communications and why he believes licensed ham radio can be the best option.
“Ham radio is almost always the best alternative when the Internet and phones are down,” Pemberton says. “That’s because the repeaters are solar and battery powered and are maintained by local Skyline club members who just love what they do.
“A repeater can pick up signals from even small handheld radios and instantly rebroadcast them at much higher power. They are all on the tops of mountains so they give a small handheld a reach of hundreds of miles.”
According to Pemberton, SARC maintains six networked repeaters and several standalone repeaters that are available for public use. The networked repeaters are interconnected so that they all simultaneously rebroadcast the signals sent to any one of the them.
And it only gets better, Pemberton says. SARC maintains the Skyline repeater network while other clubs maintain 13 more repeaters that make up the what is called the “Sinbad” repeater network. The two networks are interconnected so that anyone “talking” to one of the 19 repeaters is rebroadcast by all 19. These 19 repeaters are strategically scattered so they cover almost half of Utah, Pemberton says.
All these repeaters are available for use by anyone who wants to use them, but the user has to have an amateur radio license.
“Hence, the free license class SARC is offering,” Pemberton says.
Barry Bradley, one of the founders of SARC and a class instructor says, “There is a lot of misunderstanding about radios and what they can and can’t do. A lot of people either don’t know about the repeater systems or they think their radios will work with them. They usually don’t, and the people don’t have legal licenses to use them anyway.”
Bradley says the common General Mobile Radio Service or Family Radio Service radios typically don’t transmit at the frequencies of the repeaters, or even if a person does have a radio that broadcasts on the right frequency, the user has to have a amateur radio license to use it legally. If someone gets caught breaking the rules, he or she can be fined up to $25,000.
Pemberton, who got his first ham license in 1952, says the Skyline club wants to take a different approach to this license class and let people actually handle and use a radio while learning how to pass the license exam.
“The other thing we are doing a differently is letting people learn a large part of what they need at home on the websites that provide that training,” Pemberton says. “So the class sessions will mostly deal with the more complicated things, and we will have after-class sessions for individual tutoring when needed.”
Pemberton says his handheld ham radio has helped him deal with a few minor emergencies already. Once at a youth camp, one of the campers had forgotten to bring extra hearing-aid batteries. There was no cell phone service at the camp location.
“I was able to raise the repeater near Scofield and put out a call for a phone line,” Pemberton says. “A ham (radio operator) immediately answered, took a phone number and message then called me back in 10 minutes to report that the message had been delivered and that the batteries would be at camp right after lunch.” Another time, Pemberton says he and his wife were locked in crawling traffic in Spanish Fork Canyon where there was no cell service.
“That time I connected with the repeater on Lake Mountain west of Utah Lake and got a message through to the people we were going to be late in meeting in Pleasant Grove,” Pemberton says.
According to Pemberton, when wild fires swept through Sanpete County in 2012, the Sanpete County dispatch center was loaded to the maximum. The ham operators of SARC were about to be called into service when the winds changed and the fires slowed down.
Club members participate in monthly exercises of the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) where ham operators practice emergency communications across Utah. On odd-numbered months, RACES links up all 29 Utah counties without using repeaters, and on even numbered months, the RACES network uses repeaters.
Class attendees will be given work sheets to use in planning how and when to connect with family members or others. Interested people are encouraged to register for the free classes at sanpeteHamRadio.eventNut.com.