For decades, in times of emergency, people have turned to the amateur radio hobbyist for help or assistance in communicating when normal avenues of communications are gone. Quakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, fires, the list goes on, but one aspect is always a sure thing; if you ask a HAM for help, they say yes.
The American Legion, in the spring of 2011, authorized the establishment of The American Legion Amateur Radio Club (TALARC). Since that day, it has grown and helped more people on this planet that I would care to count.
Local TALARC chapters form because they see a need in their community. Whether it be for training and education, emergency services, or simply to get together and talk new antenna design or assistance with a new radio. The members of the units all have something in common: military service, yes, but with the addition of amateur radio the bonds of friendship run deeper into the ionosphere. Some members are new, some are not, and some are Elmers (a nickname for a HAM operator who has been around a long time and enjoys teaching new operators the right way to do things).
Talking to people all over the world is nothing new - pick up your cellphone, press a few buttons and you can talk to anyone. Right? Well, let’s consider life during and after a natural disaster where the infrastructure of the location is completely cut off from what we call normal. No electricity, no cell connection, no Internet. What can you do?
With amateur radio, it’s possible to communicate with these limitations and more. You can even send a form of email. Operators practice this for fun as often as they wish, and it’s a good thing too. To run the radio in a disaster you first need to be licensed by the FCC; not just anyone can use a radio legally.
To be awarded your license you need to pass a 35-question test. Once you pass you will receive your call sign from the FCC in a week or so. Then you can get on the air and begin learning. It is partially intuitive, as you have seen many people on TV and movie use the radio, so you have a cursory understanding of it, but there are rules, regulations and etiquette involved you need to learn and understand before you feel comfortable.
The entry-level license is the Technician Class; it allows the operator to begin to learn by communicating on local repeaters using an HT (Handy Talkie). This is commonly done on the 2-meter and 70-centimeter frequency bands, 146MHz and 400MHz respectively. When traveling, you can program the repeaters of where you are headed, and some on your route, and talk to local HAM operators in the car while passing through their QTH (home location).
After you are comfortable on your HT you will look into a mobile radio. Still on the 2-meter and 70-centimeter bands, but more power output and an external antenna to let you communicate further and clearer than with your HT.
The next license level is the General Class. This opens up the world of HF, or High Frequency, and allows you to talk to HAM operators all over the world. There are contests that take place on a frequent basis where you attempt to talk to at least one person in every U.S. state and territory, or just someone in one of the 13 original colonies. Some are DX contests, DX meaning Distance. In the United States you would say, “CQ CQ CQ,” and anyone would or could reply if they heard you; but if you said “CQ DX CQ DX CQ DX”, you are looking to speak to someone who is not located in the United States.
Moving to the third license level, the Amateur Extra Class, you have the maximum capability to speak to anyone and everyone. You are limited only by your imagination. A lot of times the gear you have is the gear you have and how you set it up is only partially how well you communicate; the other part is if there is solar activity or not, It makes a great difference in some instances if you can talk to a specific country or not, but perhaps slightly readjusting your antenna will allow you to overcome this issue.
Getting back to the local chapter aspect, there is a TALARC unit in Wake Forest, N.C., at Post 187. The members of this unit know the importance of amateur radio in our society, and the fun that can be had when learning and using those skills. TALARC Post 187, whose call sign is WF4TAL, realizes these skills need to be passed on to the next generation. They recently taught 22 Boy Scouts the Radio Merit Badge and are planning to teach the merit badge twice a year, at the post.
Most of the Scouts and parents attending got the spark of excitement from using the radio and want to become licensed. The post is planning to hold a Technician licensing class in the beginning of 2019, in partnership with the Franklin County Amateur Radio Club (FCARC). This class will be open to the entire community and has already generated a lot of interest. Members of TALARC Post 187 are in the process of becoming credentialed Volunteer Examiners through the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) so they can assist in testing those who take this class and welcome them into the world of amateur radio.
The FCARC repeater is located in Rolesville, N.C., and the frequency is 147.315 ( + ) with an 88.5 TONE, this is the 2-meter repeater, and the "home" repeater for the FCARC club and the WF4TAL club.