#039;Hams#039; serve community

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 6, 2002

The Austin Amateur Radio Club is an inconspicuous, yet quite active group of people that offer their services for the good of our community. As the name implies, they are communications experts to some extent or another.

Besides finding their favorite air frequency to communicate with near and distant fellow hams, they may also belong to a net that handles traffic of sending, receiving and relaying messages.

At times, a member is asked to relay a greeting to someone who is not a 'ham,' the familiar name for an amateur radio operator.

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"The Austin club got started by Cecil Davis in 1958," Lee Smith says, adding that there is a strong pride issue among the amateur radio operators. He quickly points out that the work they do is free -- totally voluntary.

Smith became a licensed radio operator in 1977, and his enthusiasm for this hobby is quite visible. You know this serious ham by his vehicle, parked by White Water Wireless, his place of business -- it's rigged with three antennas on top and radios inside. Lee is never far away from his radios.

The Austin Amateur Radio Club members get involved in countless community activities such as the different 'walks' for health and cures, triathlons, Mower County fair and the Fourth of July celebrations.

The most significant service to our community, however, is its involvement with the Sky Warn system.

According to Smith, southeast Minnesota's storm preparedness, in the past two years, has been rated number one in the country. Before that, it was 'only' number three.The severe weather station in La Crosse is responsible for notifying the areas of southwest Wisconsin, northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota.

The Austin Law Enforcement Center (LEC) gets the information directly from the La Cross weather station. A ham operator might during his travels pick it up on his ham radio.

If Smith is in the vicinity at the time a storm center is approaching, he heads up the trained sky-warn weather spotters of Mower County and surrounding area. He then checks his list for available sky-warn trained operators to make sure they are aware of the developments.

"When I'm not here, someone else will – Dean Johnson or John Nystrom, for instance. Those are some guys we hope are available in time of need for volunteering time and effort to carry out watches and warnings to our community," Lee says.

"All other ham radio traffic will then be ceased and only the weather net operating. The exact time when this starts will be documented, and then begin the call-ups to see who is nearby and can respond and be stationed."

Thosel who are already in position will identify themselves and their locations so they can be dispatched to the proper sites, depending on the direction from which the storm front is approaching.

Via radios, cell phones or other means, they stay in direct contact with the net controller, who passes the information to LEC people and in return get information they have received through communications with other counties.

"We have had a very good communication with the LEC and the Sheriff's Department in the area," Smith recalls. "After it's all over, we carry on -- a nice handshake and compliment each other for times of trying to protect our community and to be prepared for whatever it is that's approaching."

Dean Johnson, president of the Austin Amateur Radio Club, got his training as radio operator while serving in the U.S. Air Force. In those days, learning Morse code was a must for the professional as well as the amateur. In addition, the applicant for a ham license had to build his own radio rig from scratch.

Today, code is optional, and the radio comes in a kit, much easier to assemble. It's down right fun, providing you have an interest in electronics and communication.

Anyone interested in joining this world class organization may call KA0RMP Dean Johnson at (507) 433-1051.