Hello World? This is Chase County.
Amateur radio took over the historic barn in Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve on Saturday when amateur radio operators – or “ham” – from the Santa Fe Trail amateur radio club in Olathe brought parks-on-the-air to the Strong City site.
“We’re setting up communications in state and national parks and enabling this website so others can speak to us,” said Jim Andera, organizer of the Santa Fe Trail Amateur Radio Club. “We hope to introduce the world to our state and national parks and just what the people of Kansas do.”
Three stations were set up in the three-story limestone barn, two of which used voice transceivers to chat with other ham operators across the country. Another station used Morse code for communication. Amateur radio can be used in emergency situations because the work does not require electricity, phone lines, or cellular service. All that is required to operate an amateur radio is an antenna and a battery.
Amateur radios use refined radio waves that bounce off the ionosphere, a low level of the Earth’s atmosphere that contains a high concentration of ions and free electrons. How far away a ham wants to be depends on the frequency with which it works. A lower frequency – for example, a wavelength of 20 meters – can reliably travel 800 to 1,500 miles. This means someone in Kansas can speak to other operators on both coasts and even in South America and Europe. A higher frequency – say 40 meters – could reach others in the Midwest.
Amateur radio operators can be used almost anywhere in the world from home, by car, truck or mobile home. Some can operate from an airplane, boat, mountain top, or a remote island in a distant ocean.
Anderas said the conversations can be about anything – as detailed or brief as the operators want them to be.
“People talk about the weather, a lot of technical things – like their equipment and stuff – their dogs, their grandchildren, whatever,” he said. “I was out and about in Colorado once and started talking to a man in Minnesota. I asked him – just kidding him – if he had sled dogs. He told me about his 12 sled dogs. “
Anderas said he also takes his radio on backbacking trips in Wyoming and Montana. Even in remote areas, he can talk to friends at home and reassure his family that he “has not been eaten by a bear”. All it needs is an antenna and four volts of electricity from a battery.
“That’s why these are so valuable for things like search and rescue missions,” said Anderas.
How far someone can reach another operator often depends on the atmosphere. When the conditions are perfect, it is known that some operators operating on less than a watt of power can reach as far as South America.
According to Anderas, amateur radio is also a relatively cheap hobby.
To get started, all you need is a small antenna and transceiver – which some operators build themselves. Hams don’t need to be in class, although many choose to do it to learn the basics. Some clubs offer crash courses, after which a person can get a license after just a weekend. Others are more digestible and last seven or eight weeks.
Finally, the prospective operator must pass a test conducted by the Federal Communications Commission. There are three levels of licenses that operators can obtain.
“There’s a lot of self-study or hands-on learning,” said Anderas.
Anderas said the unique perspectives and wide range of people an operator can communicate with make it a fun hobby.
“Right now I can tell people how unique this place I am right now is,” he said. “I can tell them that I am in a three story limestone barn and that I will speak to them – wherever they are. How many people can say that? “