As August is the birth month of all three of Louisiana’s Winn-born governors (Huey and Earl Long and O.K. Allen), it’s only fitting that the call sign W3G be assigned to a ham radio special event station that was held here in August, says Houston Polson, a Winnfield resident and member of Central Louisiana Amateur Radio Club of Pineville.
While the retired Air Force colonel is a transplant into the community, he tells the Journal he feels like this is home and believes Winn ought to celebrate whenever it can this notoriety of three governors. The FCC designated the W3G call sign for the entire week of Aug. 23-30. Polson’s plan was to use his ham radio at home for worldwide communication during that week and was assisted by fellow ham enthusiast Dave Nolan of Bentley.
“My hopes for a larger scale special operating event didn’t work out but what we did was rewarding and I think it told the world about our wonderful town.”
Polson said that during the 10 hours of radio operation during that week, they made 376 contacts in 42 states and 23 foreign countries. Those included contacts in such far-off locations as Germany, England, Israel, Russia, Australia, Ukraine and Japan. Sometimes, he explained, the radio contacts are made like phone calls to other ham operators they know. Often, however, a call is simply put out over a given frequency and if another operator is out there and responds, the conversation begins.
Usually that communication is simple and short. After an exchange of ID codes and information such as signal strength, Polson might explain Winn’s fortune as birthplace of the three governors, this being a small town in north Louisiana and home of good folks. He in turn might learn he was talking to another small-town resident in New Jersey and inquire about the weather or the high school’s football season. And they’d sign off. Other contacts could lead to discussions that would go on for an hour. Further contact details are always available through the system.
This is not just idle time spent by the 6,000 ham radio operators in Louisiana. It’s ongoing practice, if you will, so that these ever-vigilant volunteers will be ready to respond should disaster strike and all other forms of outside communication fail. In Winn’s case, Hurricane Laura comes to mind. During a 24-hour long exercise event the last weekend in June, Polson’s ham club took to the field and setup operation at the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Shooting Range. He explained, “we didn’t just plug the radio into the wall socket. We used emergency generators, batteries, solar power and even a radio satellite to make contacts.”
“The exercise was a success”, he continued. “Our 45 club members made nearly 4,000 radio contacts in all 50 states and 19 foreign countries on all six continents. It’s not high-tech, mostly done on hardware wire.”
Polson said that with his simple radio, his generator and a wire antenna, he can set up anywhere in the parish in 30 minutes and be communicating across the USA. That’s much quicker than any emergency response system can be brought in and start running.
Readers wishing to know more about ham (amateur) radio and its central Louisiana enthusiasts, check out the following feature provided courtesy of our neighboring Jena Times:
Ham Radio Operators Conduct National Exercise
BY CRAIG FRANKLIN
Editor, Jena Times
In a world that is dominated by digital and internet communications, it would surprise many to learn that there is an alternative means of communication that exists should the unthinkable ever occur.
Ham radio, also known as amateur radio, has been around since the late 1800’s and today that simple technology of transmitting radio waves using radio frequency systems to communicate locally and around the world has evolved to include more than just Morse Code or voice transmissions but also email and so much more.
The uninformed will liken ham radios to CB radios but in truth, CB’s are no match for the powerful network that ham radios offer. They can operate on very little power but provide communications across states and nations. They are especially useful in catastrophic events that leave other electrical communications obsolete.
On Saturday and Sunday, June 24 and 25, ham radio operators from the Central Louisiana Amateur Radio Club (CLARC) participated in a national amateur radio exercise at the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Range. The ARRLL Field Day is an annual amateur radio activity organized since 1933 by the American Radio Relay League, the National Association for Amateur Radio in the United States.
Hams from across North America ordinarily participate in Field Day by establishing temporary ham radio stations in public locations to demonstrate their skill and service. Their use of radio signals, which reach beyond borders, brings people together while providing essential communication in the service of communities. Field Day highlights ham radio’s ability to work reliably under any conditions from almost any location and create an independent, wireless communications network.
“Hams have a long history of serving our communities when storms or other disasters damage critical communication infrastructure, including cell towers,” said Kirk Garber, President of CLARC. “Ham radio functions completely independently of the internet and phone systems and a station can be set up almost anywhere in minutes. Hams can quickly raise a wire antenna in a tree or on a mast, connect it to a radio and power source, and communicate effectively with others.”
“This is a time where we all get together and train to get better at what we do,” Perry Nelson of Jena said. “Any time there is a major disaster we go ahead and start listening and transmitting, seeing where we can help.”
Allen Fontenot from Eunice, has been a ham operator for 22 years and remembers vividly how ham operators were crucial during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“Everything was down, police/fire/ambulance radios, internet and cell phones, but ham operators were transmitting,” he said. “Our club went to the (Rapides) coliseum and set up like we’re doing today to relay information from New Orleans. There were ham operators in New Orleans and they were the only ones able to get information out because all other forms of communication were down.”
One of CLARC’s oldest members, Jack Brossette of Pineville, has been a ham operator since 1962. When Hurricane Betsy struck Louisiana in 1965, he was part of the team that helped during the devastation.
“In 1965 I had my first experience in real life in doing what we’re training to do today,” he said. “We actually had guys put mobile ham radios in police cars and that is what they used to communicate back to police headquarters because everything else was down.”
“Hams are completely off the grid,” Garber stated. “Having the electricity out or internet down doesn’t affect us. We can run off battery power or generators and you can actually run these radios on a 12-volt battery for eight hours.” Although the thrill of talking with someone great distances away is exciting, the main reason ham operators do what they do is for the assistance it provides to so many.
“When a hurricane hit Panama City Beach a few years ago, I was listening after the eye made landfall and heard a man call out to see if anyone was listening,” he said. “I told him I was and he asked me to get a message to his daughter who lived in Colorado to tell her he was okay. He gave me her number and I called her up and relayed the message. She was so grateful for that call because she hadn’t heard from her dad since the hurricane hit.”
“It’s during those times that being a ham operator is most fulfilling,” Garber said.
There is no age limit for someone to become a ham operator. Several members of the club have children who are operators and CLARC is hoping that more will join. “We are really hoping that more youth will get involved with ham radio,” Garber continued. “There is so much they learn being involved with it, from building electronics, to learning frequencies and communication technology, to service to others.”
CLARC has members in over seven Central Louisiana parishes and all of the its members say that being a ham operator is a passion that also serves a great service. “And it’s fun,” Garber said. “We have a great time not only visiting with one another at our meetings but we have friends all over the world thanks to ham radio.”
By their continued commitment to training during events such as Field Day, they keep their skills sharp and ready to answer the call for the next disaster. When all else fails, ham radio will be available to help when it’s needed the most.