During last weekend’s violent storms area HAM radio operators were busy helping to ensure the quality of all our lives by keeping first responders, storm chasers and government officials informed.

Locally, Gene Morrison, William D. Allen and Larry D. Barr are among the top go-to HAM guys. Allen is president of the Tarleton Area Amateur Radio Club and Barr is the public information officer of the club. Barr spoke to us about the club and the Sky Warn program.

"The club started up about nine ago and we got authorized to administer the [HAM license] tests. Over the years we have administered about 150 tests for people to get their licenses, so we’re real busy doing that.

“We also encourage everybody to get involved in the Sky Warn program and the HAM radio club and the Tarleton Planetarium co-sponsor the training for that program that’s held in the planetarium each year. Somebody from the Fort Worth office of the National Weather Service comes out and teaches that; how to spot a wall cloud and all the parts of a super cell thunderstorm that could turn into a tornado. We had about 120 people at the last one.

“A couple of the teachers made it mandatory for their students, which was good,” he says. “Even if somebody’s not a HAM operator, if they know what to look for, they can take steps to protect themselves and their family and feed us information.”

“I have people calling or texting me during weather events that are not HAMS but who’ve gone through the Sky Warn training and I know they’re reliable spotters. They just don’t have a HAM license so they go through me. It’s very helpful.”

So how did this HAM radio stuff all come about in the first place? According to information from the National Association for Amateur Radio or AARL:

The Federal Communications Commission [FCC] created this service to fill the need for a pool of experts who could provide backup during emergencies. In addition, the FCC acknowledged the ability of the hobby to advance the communication and technical skills of radio and to enhance international goodwill. Countless lives have been saved where skilled hobbyists act as emergency communicators to render aid, whether it's during an earthquake in Italy or a hurricane in the U.S.

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service [ARES] consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment with their local ARES leadership for communications duty in the public service when disaster strikes.

Although Amateur Radio operators get involved for many reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology and operating principles, and pass an examination for the FCC license to operate on radio frequencies known as the "Amateur Bands." These bands are radio frequencies reserved by the FCC for use by ham radio operators.

The first wireless operators were landline telegraphers who left their offices to go to sea or to man the coastal stations. They brought with them their language and much of the tradition of their older profession. In those early days, every station occupied the whole spectrum with its broad spark signal. Government stations, ships, coastal stations and the increasingly numerous amateur operators all competed for time and signal supremacy in each other's receivers.

Many of the amateur stations were very powerful. Two amateurs, working each other across town, could effectively jam all the other operations in the area. Frustrated commercial operators would refer to the ham radio interference by calling them "hams." Amateurs, possibly unfamiliar with the real meaning of the term, picked it up and applied it to themselves.

As the years advanced, the original meaning of the term "HAM" has become somewhat obscure, but according to www.hamradiooperator.blogspot.com, the term "HAM” comes from the first initials of three pioneers in radio:

H = Heinrich Hertz who helped develop the theory of electromagnetic waves,

A = Edward Howard Armstrong who was successful in inventing frequency modulation [FM]

M= Guglielmo Marconi who was the first to transmit signals across the Atlantic Ocean and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909.

The best ways to learn about amateur radio is probably to talk to HAMs face-to-face. HAMs take pride in their ability to "Elmer" [teach] newcomers the ropes to get them started in the hobby.

For more information call 1-800-32-NEWHAM or visit www.arrl.org/home or www.arrl.org/Groups/view/tarleton-area-amateur-radio-club.