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Hamming it up
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By Steve Chiotakis. Aired June 29, 2001.

(STEELE, Ala.) -- During times of bad weather or crisis, communication can become difficult, almost impossible.

Oftentimes, because of their mobility and versatility, ham radio operators and their equipment become major players in providing information and assistance to authorities. They can monitor police and fire channels or be in touch with the weather service as storm spotters, all the while not having to deal with cell phone towers or the power grid. Take for example the tornadoes that hit Tuscaloosa last December. Tuscaloosa storm spotters, whose accounts were recorded with the Alabama Emergency Response Team, were among the first on the scene: (excerpt from HAM radio storm spotters courtesy of the Alabama Emergency Response Team) "We have major damage - repeat major damage - in the field. (to another spotter) I see debris! (another spotter) Roger. We're trying to get you some help!" "In a disaster your power lines would probably be down, just as the ice storms take your power down. If you have no power commercial power, therefore, you can get on the radio and transmit and to talk to these different areas and to find out what kind of health and welfare traffic they need." Jerry Womble, call sign WA4QIN, says last weekend's Field Day atop Chandler Mountain in St- Clair County, is a chance for HAMS to brush up on their emergency preparedness skills. Generators are strategically placed near eight monitoring stations utilizing different frequencies and spectra, even morse code is being communicated from here. While primarily an emergency exercise, Field Day is also a competition among HAM operators to find out who can communicate with the most people. Bill Levey is one of at least two dozen people at the event. "My amateur radio call is WA4FAT. We hams are known by our HAM radio license call letters. Much like WBHM is known by your call letters…" And much like WBHM, ham radio operators communicate through megahertz. Their signals are either much higher, or much lower than our 90.3. "So we're on both sides of you. Much below 50 mHz, and then you would be able to communicate worldwide. It would rare for someone to hear WBHM in a distant country." Levey says most of the signals at this year's Field Day are lower than 50 megahertz. And since radio waves don't stop at any state or national border, it's not hard to find someone on the other end. With the advent of satellites, cell phones and now, the Internet, some think that amateur radio is on its way out. David Black says think again. "I'm not convinced ham radio is dying." Black, call sign KB4KCH, says those other media are still more vulnerable to the environment and limits in technology - power outages and tie-ups on landlines. And he says he's noticing a trend… "There has been a resurgence in interest, here in the Birmingham area, of amateur radio operators who enjoy communicating. So, the future will likely encompass even more advances in high technology, some of which will perhaps be yet to develop. While Field Day is an exercise in preparedness, Black says most HAM operators update equipment to stay on the cutting edge. To the HAMS on the edge of Chandler Mountain, this yearly weekend retreat is about getting away, yet staying in touch. ©2001 WBHM-FM. All Rights Reserved.