Ham radio operator loves camaraderie of unusual hobby

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 21, 2001

VIDALIA, La. -David Farmer of Vidalia first became interested in ham radio about 10 years ago simply because he wanted an alternative to the conversations he was then having over his CB radio.

&uot;I was tired of CB’ing, all the filth you would hear on there,&uot; Farmer said.

So he joined the Natchez-based Bluff City Amateur Radio Club — one of several such clubs in the region — and Farmer’s passion for ham radio operation was born. Now, he and the friends he has made through the club talk to each other every day from homes and vehicles throughout the Miss-Lou.

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&uot;It’s like a family,&uot; Farmer said, firing up a handheld ham radio outside his home, which is distinguished from the other houses on Simonton Lane by the huge radio antenna protruding from the roof.

As he demonstrates ham radio operation, he also demonstrates those friendships.

&uot;How’s everything in Roxie?&uot;, he asked of one friend who answered Farmer’s call.

&uot;Still wet over here. I’m going to run over to Frank’s when he gets out of the bank,&uot; the friend answered back, referring to another of their radio operator buddies.

&uot;You don’t need to be out in this weather,&uot; Farmer warned, keeping his eyes on the cold, gray skies.

They went on to discuss the death of a cousin of a fellow radio operator. And the man to whom Farmer was talked ended the conversation by offering Farmer some just-cut firewood.

&uot;If you need it,&uot; the man said, &uot;I’ll be happy to bring you some.&uot;

&uot;We really look out for each other,&uot; Farmer explained after he had let son Scott, 9, talk on the radio a bit and finished the exchange by stating his identification, KB5RQK.

Farmer explained that as long as he starts and finishes such exchanges, he can let his son talk on the radio, but Scott cannot &uot;surf&uot; the airwaves until he reads a manual on ham radio operation and takes a 35- to 40-question test.

Farmer’s wife, Cheryl — perhaps better known on the airwaves as KC5WQC — has also taken up the hobby. Together, the family has six radios in their house and vehicles, not counting their two handheld radios. Last fall, lightning hit the antenna and &uot;fried&uot; much of the family’s ham radio equipment, but it has since been replaced. It really isn’t that expensive to buy ham radio equipment, said Farmer, at least no more costly than financing other hobbies.

&uot;You can buy a radio for $180, buy an antenna and you’re ready to go,&uot; Farmer said. The handheld radios can cost about $100.

While the local band only picks up transmissions from as far away as Baton Rouge and Jackson, other bands can pick up transmissions from around the world, and Farmers admitted that that is exciting.

&uot;I’ve talked with people all over Europe, in Russia, just all over,&uot; he said, adding that such conversations are recorded in log books. &uot;I only place I haven’t reached is Japan. That’s the one I really want.&uot;

But what Farmer really likes about ham radio operation is that it can be used to relay vital information in emergencies when other forms of communication are inoperable.

He has used his ham radio equipment to get weather information from other cities such as Baton Rouge, for example, during severe weather times, and has relayed that information to Concordia Parish Civil Defense Director Morris White and other emergency personnel.

&uot;What really motivates me is pulling together in case of emergencies,&uot; Farmer said. &uot;In any disaster, we (ham radio operators) volunteer our help.&uot;

The Dart is a weekly feature in which a reporter throws a dart at a map and finds a story where it lands.