Ham hobbyists help upgrade communications around area

By: Jenny Lupica, Nixa News-Enterprise

Usually a backyard shed is filled with a lawnmower and maybe some garden tools, but with a 30-foot antennae across the yard it's apparent right away that James Adkins' shed isn't the norm.

Upon entering one sees a wall lined with various ham radios, CBs and police scanners. It's a set of equipment that he's been collecting for around 11 years and he won't even begin to estimate its worth.

"We spend thousands of dollars on our own equipment," Dave Beckler, Adkins' fellow Nixa Amateur Radio Club member, said. Then he adds that their personal radios have nothing to do with their latest campaign. "What we're trying to do is strictly for the community."

Beckler's talking about "Remember Peirce City" The campaign inspired by 2003's tornado upheaval in southwest Missouri. The Nixa Amateur Radio Club's plan is to create a storm-spotting system for the Ozarks that will better prepare areas when disasters are on the horizon. A radio club would imply that their interest is solely with radio, but this club has gained an intense interest in weather and the possibility to help protect their community from any type of disaster.

"We're not just a fun club," Dean Gaines, club member, said. "We enjoy what we do, but we want to make people aware of our capabilities and intent."

Their intent is to supply enough repeaters, a type of antennae, to strengthen radio signals between cities and ensure communication during emergencies. Last year they installed their first repeater on Nixa's water tower on West Mt. Vernon and this year, with their record 25-member group, they'd like to strengthen their signal to Joplin and add a new repeater in Republic.

The Nixa Amateur Radio Club figures if they can cover enough ground, they can use ham radio operators to better predict how a storm is moving across the area.

"There could be a tornado, but (the weathermen) really don't know where it is," Beckler said. "That's where the ham radio guys really come into play." He said they can be on their hams telling people in other cities and towns exactly where a tornado was spotted and what direction it's moving.

Natural disasters aren't the only times ham radios can be used; they're also major players in any emergency situation. Chris Cochran, club president, said they can be used during any disaster. He said when 9/11 happened ham radios helped people communicate while the cell phone lines were down.

"We want to let everyone know that this is what we're trying to prepare for," Beckler said.

Having radio coverage over eastern Kansas, Oklahoma and northern Arkansas is easier said than done considering the cost of receptors. The one they put up last year cost the club $10,000. It was money they raised by gathering donations and selling Krispy Kremes, Pizza Hut and entertainment discount coupons. The new receptor they'd like to add in Republic has a stronger antennae and is about $14,000 more expensive than their other receptor.

"It's probably one of the greatest undertakings that the club has ever had," Beckler said. Right now they're seeking business partners to donate money toward the community-centered cause, and they're hoping that people will start to see the importance of the ham radio web that they're trying to setup.

"(Ham radios) can be part of 100 different uses when serving the public and that's what we want people to know," Gaines said.

©Ozarks Newsstand 2005