Ready to ‘ham’ it up

Published 1:03 am Friday, June 14, 2013

Camp Hannah Bonner is going to be “radio active” June 22-23.

The Pamlico Amateur Radio Club will be conducting a field day, a nationwide contest involving amateur “ham” radio operators across the nation. It’s an event to make the most contacts via high-frequency radio during a 24-hour period.

But it’s much more than a contest, according to Al Mullis, a ham radio operator and Chocowinity resident. The field day provides “hams” an opportunity to set up antennas and radios in the “field” as they would after a disaster such as a hurricane or like the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma and practice meeting emergency communication needs, said Mullis, club president. The field day, which is open to the public, also allows the local amateur radio club a chance to educate the public about the services “ham” radio operators provide and area “hams” to socialize. The local radio club has about 35 members, but there are about 100 “hams” in the area, Mullis said. Among those members are several women.

Mullis, in his early 70s, became a “ham” when he was 14. He explained the history behind field days.

“They way it all got started was to put the ‘hams’ out into the field under simulated emergency conditions in order to find out our vulnerabilities, if you will, so if a true emergency were to come along we’d have the knowledge to put together a plan to go out and be able to do that (emergency communications) if we had to,” Mullis said.

Under rules of the field day, only two “hams” are allowed on the air at any given time, Mullis said. Other “hams” not on the air observe, explain what’s going on to members of the public who may be at the event and socialize with one another as they talk about “ham” radio, he noted.

“It’s educational, too, because what we try to do is get the community to understand what ‘hams’ do. We do try to provide emergency communications during hurricanes and things like that. Nobody really knows that we do that. ‘Ham’ radio, in general, has not done the world’s best job in promoting that,” Mullis said. “Any time you have a natural disaster, like the tornadoes out West, all the communications — I mean even the state police, a lot of their communication was out. All of your cellphones out. All of your landlines out, and so forth. The only communication in or out was a ‘ham’ radio operator who happens to have his own power capabilities. A lot of us have generators.”

“It’s not an exciting thing to look at, but it is important because the club practices the skills they may need during a hurricane,” wrote Cheryl McGuire, the club’s vice president, in a note informing the Daily News about the field day.

Camp Hannah Bonner is off Harvey Road and near Plantation Drive, which is the entrance to Pamlico Plantation. Look for sign on Harvey Road that identifies the Camp Hannah Bonner site.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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