Ham radio operators don't need phone signals to communicate

Published: Jul. 15, 2011 at 8:41 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 25, 2011 at 8:42 PM EDT
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By Taylor Kearns - bio | email

CAMDEN, SC (WIS) - When cell phones don't work and land lines are knocked out, what do you do? About 6,000 people in Orangeburg County got a taste of that on Thursday when a cut fiber line knocked out 911 service for several hours, but one group of people says no phone or Internet is no problem.

You can keep your satellites, cell phones and tweets. Thom Ashton has a flagpole antenna. It bounces radio waves off the atmosphere, reaching anywhere from France to New Zealand and beyond.

Ashton is an amateur radio operator, or ham, and has been at it for 21 years. Nightly, he talks all subjects with hams from all over. "When I was 15 years old, we were talking to kids within a 50-mile radius or so using Morse code," said Ashton. "We thought that was great."
But over the years, technology got a lot smaller, and so did the world. Who needs a ham radio in the iPhone age? "I like thinking we can help people in case of an emergency, and we do all the time," said Ashton.

Ronnie Livingston is President of the Columbia Amateur Radio Club. Their trailer is their mobile command post, meant for use in disaster zones like those in Joplin and New Orleans. "When Katrina struck, it was amateur radio that was the major communications link for a good three weeks," said Livingston. "Because all the other infrastructure was down, including cell towers, normal phone lines were just gone, disrupted."
In situations like that, you need a dedicated group of people that don't need much to reach out and touch someone.

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