Local amateur radio operators participate in eclipse from indoors


While most people ventured outside to watch Monday’s solar eclipse, a group of local amateur or ham radio operators stayed indoors to listen to the skies instead.

Todd Baker and Jack Lambert set up their mobile radio equipment inside the Jackson County Visitor Center in Seymour and antennas outside to pick up signals and chatter from other radio operators across the country.

It was their own unique version of a solar eclipse party. Early on, they had already talked with operators in North Carolina and South Carolina.

Outside in the parking lot, Nick Klinger with Jackson County Emergency Management Agency was busy setting up the county’s mobile emergency command post. He also would be monitoring amateur radio communications along with local emergency airwaves.

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Also helping out were amateur radio operators Gerald Quebbeman and Tony Teipen from Scott County.

The whole idea was to use the solar eclipse as an opportunity to test the capabilities of ham radio. Ham radio is the use of radio frequency for purposes of noncommercial exchange of messages.

All of the information collected, including radio wavelength and strength, time of signal and location of the operator, was logged and will be sent to Virginia Tech for analysis.

“We are sending and receiving signals, before, during and after the eclipse, to determine how communications will be affected,” Baker said.

In the event of an emergency, the information will help radio operators determine where their signal will reach. Amateur radio operators serve as backup to emergency personnel when other means of communication may not be accessible due to power failure, Klinger said.

“The biggest thing we want to find out is what’s the solar eclipse going to do with communications because weather can play such a havoc,” he said.

He also pointed out that with the number of people trying to call others on their cellphones to talk about the eclipse, it likely will overwhelm cellular networks.

“With it being so close, we know the cell towers are going to be jammed later today,” he said. “Ham radio is a great alternative because we don’t rely on an infrastructure to work. Basically, we can talk to anyone in the world with these antennas.”

Baker is new to the amateur radio world. He got started in March after storms swept through Jackson County and caused a major power outage.

He now wants to help restart an amateur radio club in Jackson County.

“We’re trying to get things built back up,” he said.

As for the eclipse, he said he probably won’t even see it, but it’s a great excuse to help make people more aware of ham operators.

“We’re nuts for testing, and we’re always looking for things to get involved. I probably won’t even look at it,” he said. “I don’t even have a pair of (eclipse glasses), but I could borrow a pair from one of the ladies here.”

Baker said he can recall making pinhole eclipse viewers from paper plates as a kid.

This eclipse also serves as a way for ham radio operators to prepare for the next eclipse in 2024 when Jackson County is in the path of totality and people will see 100 percent of the eclipse here. This time around, it was 94 percent.

“This kind of gives us a heads up of what to expect in 2024 when we become ground zero for 100 percent,” Klinger said. “So today, we’re looking at what they’re doing in Kentucky, what went right, what went wrong down there, so we are better prepared.”

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