The Pacific digital amateur radio club is turning the city into a high-tech mecca, attracting a stream of technology experts and computer gurus, who also are hams, to use the club’s digital repeater, which is still in the process of being installed.
Until recently, amateur radio operators, or hams, used analog radios and self-installed towers and repeaters to access radio waves.
Now, digital amateur radio allows hams to reach the radio waves through their laptop and desktop computers using new, sophisticated digital technology that some hams are scrambling to learn.
But Internet technology (IT) directors, network programmers, software developers and network broadcasters grasp the technology and are joining the Pacific club to help launch amateur radio into the digital age.
The club now has 22 members, including a corporate pilot, a commercial tower developer, an IT director, a commercial webpage builder and network manager — all hams who are making the transition to digital amateur radio.
It was necessary to form a Pacific radio club in order to be assigned a federal radio call sign for the repeater. Pacific’s call sign is KDØZEA.
The city sanctioned the club when it purchased two digital repeaters to be placed on the tower above Blackburn Park as part of a support system to the city emergency operations department.
Former City Administrator Harold Selby, KAØWXX, and Bob Masson, KDØJDY, who serves as president, organized the club, whichw has attracted local hams and hams from outside the area who are eager to apply the new high tech communication system.
“This gives the city additional frequencies that do not tie up their communication system,” Masson said. “This is an adjunct allocated to hams exclusively through the federal communication system.”
The club meets the first Thursday of each month in the city EOC, located in the police department. Dian Becker, KDØEPF, Pacific emergency management director, also is a ham.
When landlines and cellphones go down during a disaster, radio waves are constant allowing amateur radio operators, or hams, to communicate within and outside the disaster area.
In addition to the repeater, hams are capable of going into the field and setting up temporary communications with their own equipment.
Local amateur radio clubs like Zero Beaters in Washington and the Sullivan Amateur Radio Club have assisted the Franklin County Emergency Management during floods and ice storms when phone service was damaged.
The city of Pacific, which has a history of flooding and railroad derailing, originally planned to purchase an amateur radio to be installed in the EOC. After Selby and Masson pointed out that in disasters volunteer hams bring their own radios, the board of aldermen made the decision to buy a D-Star digital repeater.
A local company, ET Security and Fire, will install the repeater antenna on the tower, after comparing height of digital antennas in Washington and Downtown St. Louis, which would enable hams with digital radios using the Pacific repeater to reach the other digital repeaters.
The club and equipment installation is a work in progress, using a series of routers and repeaters, as well as modems, computers and controllers utilizing the LINUX operating system, which is understood by computer geeks. Some technology experts see digital amateur radio as the latest entrance ramp to the international superhighway.
“In essence, you could talk around the world on five watts of power,” Masson said.
Other clubs and digital repeater operators have volunteered to help jumpstart the Pacific repeater.
Craig Brune, NØMFD, who has formed the Franklin County Digital Group in Washington, has worked with Masson to program the D-Star Dongle that he uses to access digital repeaters.
The St. Louis Digital Radio Club volunteered to help program the Pacific repeaters as well.