Each Thursday evening, members of a club in Sevier County communicate with each other in a way only open to those in the group.
These meetings are conducted not in a secret headquarters, but via the public airwaves in the comfort of people’s own homes. The world of amateur radio in Sevier County is reaching a milestone.
As of Thursday, Nov. 7, members of the Sevier Amateur Radio Club will have four years of tuning in and broadcasting a weekly net.
“We’ve come a long way in four years,” said Steve Fehlhaber, one of the founders of the club. Fehlhaber said he developed a love of amateur radio thanks in part to fellow Monroe resident Pat Hess, who also operates an amateur station.
“Pat actually has been active in worldwide contesting using either Morse Code or voice,” Fehlhaber said. By bouncing signals off of the atmosphere, amateur radio operators can communicate with people throughout the world, Fehlhaber said.
Fehlhaber has spoken with people in all 50 states and 43 different countries. In July 2010, he made contact with the International Space Station as it orbited overhead.
“That was one of the highlights of my life,” Fehlhaber said. “There was a 60-year-old man jumping around my house that day.”
The Sevier County amateur radio organization generally has between 15 and 30 people check in during the weekly nets, which are roll calls of who is out there broadcasting and listening, Fehlhaber said. Last Thursday, 23 people, each with their own radio equipment, checked in on the net. Members of the group from as far away as Koosharem participated as Fehlhaber checked off participants from his home in Monroe.
While amateur radio is a hobby, it has the potential for much more than that, Fehlhaber said.
“We’ve given our emergency guidelines to the local law enforcement agencies,” Fehlhaber said. “It will allow them to contact us so they have a way to utilize us during an emergency.”
A large-scale disaster that damages cell phone towers or larger radio repeaters has the potential to disrupt communication for emergency services. However, amateur radio stations have the ability to keep a line of communication open.
Amateur radio operators are required to have a license through the Federal Communications Commission. People who don’t have an understanding of the principles of radio communication can disrupt airwaves and cause other problems, Fehlhaber said.
“Scott and Shalice Brady have been instrumental in helping get this started,” Fehlhaber said. He said the Bradys have taught radio classes, which have helped swell the number of licensed operators in Sevier County to more than 120.
In addition to the weekly Sevier County nets, radio operators also participate in statewide nets on both the UHF and VHF channels.
For more information, log onto sevierarc.org.