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Ham operators test emergency equipment

If disaster hits, who is there to call?
“Hams” from across Unicoi County celebrated the conclusion of Amateur Radio Week, sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), on Saturday, June 27, with the annual Ham Radio Field Day at the Tennessee welcome center off the Clear Branch exit in south Unicoi County.
From noon to midnight, radio enthusiasts set up shop outside the facility and put their equipment to use. Even a bit of non-radio interference from Mother Nature couldn’t stop the day, according to Ken Johnson of the Unicoi County Amateur Radio Association.
“You should have seen us trying to set up,” Johnson said light-heartedly about the rain showers that hit Erwin on Saturday.
Johnson was joined by other radio users at the event with his “go box” and a radio tower positioned in the parking lot to help send waves to other “hams.”
“It has HF (high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency),” Johnson said. “We make contacts around the country. If you’re lucky, you can pick up around the world at the same time.”
Ham radios provide an important role in the case of an emergency, Johnson added. Radio operators are the backup communications for different emergencies.
“Not if, but when,” Johnson said. “We can communicate mobile to mobile, mobile to base … We have a fairly easy setup.”
Johnson also said that the mountainous terrain could add a struggle in a worse case scenario for communication from the sheriff’s department.
“With us going HF, we can help the sheriff’s department communicate,” he said. “That is part of our credo for public service.”
The process of obtaining the proper knowledge for working a ham radio comes from a one-day course with a bevy of studying, according to Johnson.
“It is really easy,” he said. “There is a one-day class offered every quarter that happens in Elizabethton. You start from 8 a.m. and by 4:30 p.m. you know whether or not you have your license. The class is free and the test in $15. That gives you your tech license. You can do the same for other licenses. Ham radio is just a lot of fun.”
The Unicoi County Radio Association takes pride in the event, Johnson added, and looks forward to the field day each year.
“We are a fairly new club,” Johnson said. “We’ve been in existence since 2010. We’re a small organization … We have 18 members, but we have a good time. This is something we really enjoy. Just last weekend, we had a convention in Erwin and we had ham radio operators from all over the United States, British Columbia … one from Vancouver.”
The ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Services program allows ham volunteers to provide communication for state and local emergency and non-urgent community services free of charge.
Visit for more information on ham radios and the local club.