Look at it as being the original form of social networking.
Ham radio operators have been in the communication business for decades, transmitting useful information, to a listening public.
"It started with the telegraph and it grew into radio. The people who had the technical ability and the money to spend on the hobby basically made it one of the first social networks," said Calvin Gluck, secretary for the Mansfield-Johnson Amateur Radio Service - (MJARS). "It really is the first ‘Facebook.'"
Gluck said he and his group are preparing for a Field Day this weekend at Mansfield Fire Station #3 located at 3100 E. Broad.
Their primary goal is to have fun with ham radios and to educate the community. But, the secondary goal reveals the group's competitive nature which is to score points in a contest, with a detailed set of rules, where the club is awarded at least one point - per contact - per call sign - per amateur radio band.
"In 2016 the Field Day contest logs were submitted by 2,735 groups and individuals across the U.S. and Canada to the American Radio Relay League contest branch," Gluck said. "These logs showed participation by 36,729 individuals and 1,105,315 contacts during the 24-hours of the event."
Last year MJARS placed first in the North Texas Section, seventh in the Western Gulf Division, and 101 out of 2696 groups who submitted logs.
"We receive bonus points for sending radiograms over the radio and we encourage visitors to prepare a message for family or friends up to about 20 words in length," he added. "Visitors do us a tremendous favor when they come and play on the radio with us. We get to teach them how to use the radio and we get extra points in our contest."
Gluck said he's been a ham radio enthusiast for a little more than three years.
"We're also involved in promoting global communications as well as local frequencies," he said.
Gluck said local communications are more regional and used a lot by beginners in the Technician Class. He said operators can communicate with people from Weatherford to Garland and from Denton to Cleburne.
"That's how far I can reach people with an antenna on my house," he said. "The main thing they’re going to learn is how simple and easy a ham radio can be if you have somebody to introduce it to you."
Gluck said about 0.0226 percent of the population in the metroplex have a license to operate a ham radio.
"It's a dying art because the younger generation is not as interested in it - it's ‘not cool,'" he said. "We're trying to change that by showing how the computer can connect to the radio and send instant messages around the world with out a phone line or some infrastructure provided to us for free. We can chat with people in Europe, with just an antenna in the air, and a computer connected to the radio."
Gluck said they are most interested in showing the community that they are not only doing this for fun but that they actually perform community service.
He said [MJARS] is constantly practicing their skills in case of a disaster.
"During Katrina ham radio operators were able to pass along messages when police couldn't communicate with fire and rescue," said Danae Reynolds, Gluck's girlfriend. "Cell towers were wiped out, lines were down - ham radio operators have often been the source of communications in the time of a disaster."
Reynolds said when severe weather is a threat they activate a weather net.
"We take training, Skywarn School, it teaches us to be storm spotters," she said.
Gluck said the National Weather Service in Fort Worth listens to ham radio operators to help warn its audience of dangerous weather.
"Often we get out and measure windspeed, hail size...even the diameter of a branch that has broken from a tree," he said. "From that information weather personalities can give an estimated wind speed.
"Many MJARS radio operators spotted and tracked the January 15 tornado in cooperation with the National Weather Service."
Gluck said to become a certified ham radio operator cost just $15 and that beginners can get a radio for around $25 from Amazon.
"It's a great way to have situational awareness," he said. "You don't have to help, but you at least know what's going on.
He said the biggest surprise for him came when he realized it had become a community service project.
"I got into thinking it was going to be a fun hobby. It was going to be fun for me - all about me - that I could get something out of this," he said. "I realized it had become more about what I could do for the community."
Lance Winter: 817-390-7274
Did you know?
On the fourth full weekend of each June, more than 36,729 ham radio volunteers throughout North America set up temporary radio stations in public places to demonstrate ham radio's science, skill and service to our communities and our nation. The event is known as Field Day and is a simulation of how communications can continue when our national infrastructure is damaged after a natural disaster or emergency situation.
The Mansfield-Johnson Amateur Radio Service use Field Day to demonstrate public service, technical skills and emergency preparedness to the community. All are invited to observe and participate in this event in the Fire Station training room at 3100 E. Broad St in Mansfield. Setup of antennas and radios begins Friday June 23 from 8 a.m. until completed in the afternoon. Radio contacts begin Saturday at 1p.m. and continue for 24 hours until Sunday at 1p.m.
Visitors will be greeted upon arrival at the fires station and offered opportunities to observe, learn and join in the fun.