For Mike Baker, an 18-year member of the McKinney Amateur Radio Club (MARC), the importance of constant communication is simple.
“Got to keep the Morse code up, because if we get invaded by aliens, that’s what we’ve got to have,” said Baker, an engineer with the Department of Homeland Security.
In all seriousness, Baker and dozens of other club members converged last weekend in Fairview for their annual field day. They communicated with hundreds of ham radio operators around the country and tested their capabilities.
A straight weekend of contacts ensures the club’s repeaters and go-kits – equipment frequently updated – are viable in times of emergency: inclement weather, natural disasters, a blackout or even war. Staying ever ready is their job.
“We’re not really a hobby – the [Federal Communications Commission] defines us as the amateur radio service,” said Baker, the club’s communications director. “We provide service to the city, state and country.”
More than 130 members make up the club, which started in the 1960s. Many are amateurs, not even five years into it, Baker said. They’re young or new enthusiasts who’ve embraced ham radio’s endurance in an age of technology.
Noah Chalker, 18, got into ham radio in 2008 after a storm-spotting session at Collin College. He realized it revolved around amateur radio and soon got his license and call sign. Chalker, who has his own two-meter radio equipment, joined MARC in 2009.
Because of the club’s relative inexperience, training was the focus of last weekend. Members learned to operate on crowded airwaves and all kinds of frequencies. Board members taught operation basics to Boy Scouts and interested citizens.
Chalker has begun to lean on ham radio’s newer technology to attract his contemporaries who don’t yet share his enthusiasm. “It motivates me to get other people involved, because once [the older guys] are gone, I don’t want to be the only one on the air,” he said.
Ham operators are eyes and voices on the ground for the National Weather Service and media. They help patrol races and events, like McKinney’s annual Smiles Charity concert, as communication support in case of medical emergencies.
Law enforcement and professionals are often tied into certain frequencies, while ham operators readjust on the fly. They span the frequency spectrum. MARC’s communications support unit, a trailer pre-wired for radios and antennas, can be on air within a half hour.
“It’s a great public service,” said Collin County Sheriff Terry Box, who stopped in during the club’s field day. “We’ll never know how valuable they are until we need them.”
Baker admits the hardware shift from basic radio to computer-driven devices. Wireless networking with amateur radio frequencies has the attention of potential ham operators.
They learn that they’re needed, during an alien invasion or otherwise.
“The technology changes, but we’re still on the radio,” Baker said. “The objective is always the same: communication.”
For more information on McKinney Amateur Radio Club, visit mckinneyarc.org.