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Hi-Line Living: Ham radio continues on the Hi-Line

 

September 6, 2019

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Local ham radio operator Lloyd Stallkamp said he was into radios long before he came to Havre almost 40 years ago.

"I've always been interested in electronics," he said. "I built little versions of crystal radios when I was in school, but I never lived near anyone who was a ham radio operator."

Stallkamp said that when he arrived in Havre, a local ham radio club was active with an average of 20 members. He said that in Havre ham radio has been active a long time, though now most of the club members from the time he joined have died now. 

"In Havre radio jargon that is called a 'silent key,'" he said.

He said the club now has about 10 to 12 people who attend the monthly meeting and has about 15 to 18 members. The club meets on the last Monday of every month at the Havre-Hill County Library.

Stallkamp, president of Hi-Line Amateur Radio Club, and his wife Margeret came to Havre in 1982 from Saint Cloud, Minnesota both as licensed ham radio operators.

Both were licensed in 1978 - since they were not close to anyone who was a ham radio operator, they traveled at least 50 to 60 miles to a vocational technical facility once a week for six weeks to get licensed. 

Stallkamp said he not only had to take a written test to get licensed, but had to take a Morse code test, too. The morse code test is no longer required.

He added that there are three different licenses.

The first, a beginning license called a technician license, allows use of limited frequencies and requires taking a basic written test over the rules and regulations of ham radio operation. The frequencies allowed under this license allow mostly only local transmissions.

He said, once someone gains some experience, the next level is called the general class. It allows some operating privileges on all Amateur Radio bands and all operating modes. It requires passing another 35-question written test.

The top level license, called the Amateur Extra License, which Stallkamp received in 1984, opens the operator up to more frequencies.

This third license requires passing another written test - this one of 50 questions.

While knowing Morse code is no longer a requirement, it was when he took the test, like some operators still use the code.

"I am pretty good at code, but can't do 20 now, probably can  do about 13," Stallkamp said. 

He said once someone gets licensed they are assigned a call name by the federal government, which the operator broadcasts phonetically. His call name is NO7G, November Oscar Seven Golf.

Havre ham radio operators use repeaters to retransmit their signals on radio frequencies requiring line-of-sight communication, including one located in the Sweetgrass Hills and another on the old radar base north of Havre.

Stallkamp said a few activities the club has been part of include broadcasting from Bear Paw Battlefield last year and operating from Beaver Creek Park from time to time.

The history of ham radio starts at least as far back as the early 1800s when people began theorizing a connection between electricity and magnetism. In 1873, James Clerk Maxwell developed a theory on electromagnetism, which was proven in the 1890s when Heinrich Rudolph Hertz discovered electromagnetic waves, including radio waves.

Guglielmo Marconi began experimenting with transmitting and receiving radio waves, and in 1901 used a radio device using high power and giant antennas as a way to communicate across the Atlantic Ocean.

Eleven years later, U.S. Congress enacted the Radio Act of 1912, which made it essential for amateurs to be licensed.

Following the Radio Act, the American Radio Relay League was founded by Hiram Percy Maxim, who discovered that messages could be sent over long distances if relay stations were organized. 

During World War I, ham radio was forbidden. Stallkamp said it was because the United states was was worried about spies. A year after WWI, 1919, ham radio was up and authorized again, But during World War II ham radios once again couldn't operate due to security purposes.

But Stallkamp said ham radio was popular during the Vietnam War because, at the time it, was one of the few ways people in Vietnam could talk back to people in the states.  Not only was it meant to be used as a way to communicate over the radio around the United States, but also around the world

Sen. Barry Goldwater set up a special station around the time of the Vietnam War so military personnel had an amateur radio station in Vietnam and could call home. 

Stallkamp said the benefits of amateur radio are still in place today.

"The advantage of it is - the reason the federal government supports it - is if all else fails we can still operate," he said.

He added that if a hurricane hits Florida, ham radios can set up an emergency station and if a place loses power people can still talk on the ham radio.

The ham radio in Havre can connect with National Weather Service in Great Falls to find and retransmit information, he said.  

One of the major appeals of ham radio to a lot of people is the emergency preparedness, he said.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator Manager Maria Somma said in an article in Government Technology in April 2017 that emergency preparedness has driven an increase in the number of licensed ham radio operators. It hit a high in November 2016, when Federal Communications Commission listed a record high of ham radio licenses at 743,003.

But many other reasons exists for the operators to do what they do.

"I like the technical part of it, too, that's probably one of my favorite parts of it," Stallkamp said. "It's fun testing your antenna and equipment to make it better and enjoy operating."

"It's both a hobby and a service," he added.

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Online: Government Technology: "Emergency Communications Driving Increase in Amateur Radio Operators" https://www.govtech.com/em/disaster/Emergency-Communications-Driving-Increase-in-Amateur-Radio-Operators.html .

 

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