PITTSBURG — They are often referred to as hams, but most like be preferred to as radio operators.

At least, that’s what Southeast Kansas Amateur Radio Club member Steve Tandy said during a breakfast meeting at Otto’s Cafe on Wednesday.

There is some debate on why radio operators often called hams.

“I heard a story about it coming from guys on the radio ‘hamming it up,’” possibly of why people call amatuer radio operators hams today, he said.  

SEKARC meets at Otto’s every week to discuss all things radio, and then some. They bring in various gadgets and parts from the past, as well as new gear.

The club itself has only been around for a few years. It stemmed off another group which has been around for decades. Over 50 people are in the group, many are connected with other radio clubs across Kansas and Missouri.

“Someone told me it’s an easy thing to get into, but a lifetime to master,” SEKARC member Willis Stricklin said.

They all have their own ranking given to them by the Federal Communications Commission after examinations, including Technical, General and Amatuer Extra. The technical class being the beginner license and extra, the advanced.

Amature radio operators, like SEKARC, can make a difference in an event a disaster occurs and the phone lines are down, SEKARC President Jeff Chancey said. They know how to communicate with first responders until the system is back on.

They are given call signs which legally identify the operator, given by the FCC. It is kept on business cards and proudly displayed on hats.

Chancey’s father’s call sign — KA0EGE — was passed down from his father. This mix of letters and numbers share name and location information.

Each club member has their own radio shack, whether that’s in their bedroom or outdoors in a shed, Tandy said. Antennas are placed in their trees and atop other things in the yard so they can get their messages out.

Most of the member’s’ goals are to reach people all across the world, for some it’s a competition and for others it is simply a fun way to pass time, Chancey said.

“It’s fun and interesting hobby,” Chancey said. “It’s nice to talk to people around the area and across the country.”

If someone counted how many people the entire group has come into contact with through radio, it would be in the thousands. Each can connect to a couple thousand a year.

For example, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, the club will host a “special event” at the Crawford County Historical Museum. There, they will put antennas outside the museum and try to reach other radio operators across the world. They encourage people to come out and watch the event and while at it, take a look in the museum and see its exhibits, which they will be sharing a link about with other radio operators they connect with.  

“We will highlight area mining to people across state who may not know about mining in southeast Kansas,” Chancey said.

If the conditions are just right they might be able to reach around the world, Chancey said.

When the frequencies reach the ionosphere it acts as a reflector for radio waves and depending on the position of the sun it will bounce back at certain length. Depending on whether it is day or night also determines how far the radio operators can reach, SEKARC member Bill Bradrick said.

Operating radios has been a hobby for some of the group members since the 1950s.

“My dad was a ham, my older brother was a ham, my sister married a ham,” Bradrick (WB0LZ) said. “What could I do? I had to keep up with them.”

Bradrick said he remembers when they used vacuum tubes instead of transistors, and morse code and AM, which he said is now considered “old fashioned.”

Stricklin — K0SMK — said many radio operators have their own Elmer, an older radio operator who shows the new operators the ropes.

Chancey said people are more than welcome to watch them operate the radios and people can learn more about the club on its website at http://www.sekarc.net/.

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.