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Amateur radio operators invited to Summits on the Air

Holly Viers • Mar 30, 2018 at 12:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Amateur radio operators from throughout the Southeast will be coming to the Tri-Cities next month for a special event called Summits on the Air.

Organizer Patrick Harris said the event will allow these radio operators — or “hams,” as they are sometimes called — to meet other hobbyists and engage in a bit of friendly competition.

“Summits on the Air is an awards program (think trophies and certificates) where we hike to mountaintops, set up small portable radios and antennas and try to make radio contacts,” Harris said. “It is a bit like a scavenger hunt or, as I often tell people, it is like geocaching for ham radio.”

What is amateur radio?

ARRL, the national association for amateur radio, states that amateur radio is a hobby and service that “brings people, electronics and communication together.”

“People use ham radio to talk across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the Internet or cell phones,” the ARRL website states. “It’s fun, social, educational, and can be a lifeline during times of need.”

Before someone can become a ham radio operator, they must be tested on their knowledge of radio technology and operating skills. Once they pass the test, they will receive a license to operate on designated radio frequencies.

Is this hobby popular locally?

David Gulley, longtime member of the Kingsport Antique Radio Club, said ham radio is becoming more and more popular in this region.

He added that the hobby isn’t just for avid hikers or outdoorsmen. You can also participate by being a chaser: someone who looks for and responds to incoming radio signals from home.

“There’s so much that you can do with ham radio,” Gulley said. “You can talk to the space station when it flies over; you can talk all over the world.”

Who can come to Summits on the Air?

Gulley said anyone who has passed the required radio operating test and received their license can participate. People are also invited to watch the event as spectators.

The Roan Mountain State Park campground will serve as home base for the event, which will take place April 19-22. However, participants will be stationed at a number of local summits, such as the Bays Mountain Park fire tower, Holston Mountain and Whitetop Mountain in Virginia.

The event itself is free, but those who want to reserve a campsite will need to pay a reservation fee. Sites can be reserved at tnstateparks.itinio.com/roan-mountain.

What’s the goal of the event?

One of the event’s goals, Gulley said, is to give ham radio operators a chance to earn points. These are accumulated based on how many radio connections a person makes with another radio operator, and prizes are awarded to those who reach certain point milestones.

The bigger goal, however, is to bring together people who share a passion for ham radio.

“The main goal of it is to get out, get outside, have fun, talk on the radio, meet and fellowship with different people,” Gulley said. “A lot of times, being a ham operator, you can talk to somebody for two or three years and never meet them, and sometimes it takes (events) like this to meet.”

For more information, visit sotawatch.org.

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