Reporter: Ellie Mahan
January 26, 2022
The Lake Whitney Amateur Radio Society, which recently formed a group called the Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) group, will hold a Winter Field Day event all day Saturday, January 29, at the Lake Whitney Public Library.
Rommie Bollinger, member of the ARES group and president of the Lake Whitney Amateur Radio Society, said, “I was really interested in getting into the club so that we could have that camaraderie and things like that. We all have a great time just working together, setting up different events, especially the field day events.”
Field days are global radio events that allow radio operators from Whitney to speak to people who are across the globe. Bollinger said after talking to someone from another state or country, he typically doesn’t ever meet them in person, but radio operators can look each other up on a web page that lets them get to know a little bit more about the person who was on the other side of the call.
“Anyone who is licensed gets on the radio and makes contacts all across the United States, Hawaii, Alaska, just wherever you can get to,” Bollinger said. “If you’ve got the equipment and a good enough antenna and the conditions are right, you can make contact all over the world. That is kind of the excitement.”
The ARES group that members of LWARS formed is in place to provide a communication channel when traditional phones and cellular phones do not have power or service.
ARES volunteers provide communications for government agencies, disaster relief organizations, public service events, emergencies or disasters and training exercises. ARES radio operators receive training in message handling, communication technology, administrative procedures and disaster preparedness.
The ARES group prepares for emergencies that involve the electricity being out because the radio equipment that the group uses is battery-powered. Bollinger said that the group does a lot of training for emergency situations that he hopes never happen, like tornadoes. The members have completed a simulated emergency test that prepares them for a real emergency.
Bollinger is a retired computer network engineer. His interest in radio blossomed in 1973 when he began working at Radio Shack shortly after graduating high school. He said his background in technology is part of what makes him want to continue his education of amateur radio operation, through LWARS and ARES.
About ARES, Bollinger said, “I would say that the most important part is that it’s community service. You’re just giving back to the community on what you’ve learned. You can become an integral part of being able to work with different government entities or non-government entities.”
The radio operators assist the National Weather Service by providing what are called sky warns. Rather than chasing the storm, the group members will spot the storm and operate their radio from their home or wherever they are at the time and will update the National Weather Service on the weather at that location. Radio operators report hail, high wind speeds or anything that has the potential to cause damage. Bollinger said, “We are the backup. When all else fails, there is amateur radio.”
Radio enthusiasts have to be licensed in order to be in the ARES group. To get licensed, a person is required to pass an official exam to demonstrate their knowledge and abilities when it comes to amateur radio. There are three different classes of amateur radio licenses – technician, general and amateur extra. The Lake Whitney Amateur Radio Society is a full-service club when it comes to administering the exam and helping people prepare for the exam. Mentors are there to answer questions people have when studying. Bollinger said the license test can be a challenge, but anyone can do it. He said the 9-year-old daughter of one of the club members passed her test and got her license. He has seen many people pass the exam on their first try.
Bollinger said, “It does get a little bit technical, but once you get your technician’s license, it’s pretty easy then to just get right into talking on the radio and being able to participate in all the fun that we have.”
There are about 25 members of Lake Whitney Amateur Radio Society and about 12 registered members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Services Team. Both groups would be happy to have new members. The ARES group meets at 10 a.m. every fourth Saturday of the month at the Emergency Operations Center in Hillsboro, 218 North Waco Street. LWARS meets every third Saturday of the month.
Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a licensed ham radio operator can contact Rommie Bollinger at 817-487-5237 or firstname.lastname@example.org.