Each time Barbara Yasson turns on the ham radio in her Vancouver home, she carries on her father’s legacy.
She acquired his ham radio equipment after he died in 1993 and, since then, has been involved in a hobby that the American Radio Relay League – the national association for amateur radio – describes as a “hobby and service that brings people, electronics and communication together.”
Yasson’s natural curiosity drew her to amateur radio, which she calls a great pastime that allows her to learn, get other women involved in the activity, and connect with people far and wide.
“That’s one of the things about ham – I’ve made friends all over the U.S. and world,” she says. “I’ve made really valuable friendships over the years.”
Yasson serves as secretary of the Clark County Amateur Radio Club Inc., where she launched a class for women six years ago. She relishes teaching a technology that most women were not exposed to in school.
“I wanted to get more women involved,” Yasson says. “I just knew there were gals out there who wanted to get their license, and that they’d be more comfortable in a class with women. We’re a minority, but there are getting to be more women” who are ham radio operators.
The Clark County Amateur Radio Club was established in 1930 and currently has 300 members. Members participate in fun challenges, known as “contesting.” One such contest offers a certificate to ham radio operators who contact another radio operator in all 39 Washington counties. The club also provides classes and testing for those who want to obtain a ham radio license, of which there are three levels.
Each June, the club participates in Field Day, in which tens of thousands of “hams” in the United States, Canada and other countries take their radio gear outside — in public parks, on beaches and mountains, for example — to promote amateur radio and their role in emergency communications.
In addition, the club provides public services, such as communications for area parades, runs, walks and other events. They also are poised to support communications during emergencies when services are unavailable or unable to handle a large volume of traffic.
Tim Kuhlman, the club’s president, got into radio by necessity. Growing up in rural Wyoming, Kuhlman and his family used business band radios to communicate. He worked in his family’s electronics repair shop, the only such shop in an 80-mile radius, and for years thought of radios as solely a tool.
In 1990, when he was studying at the University of Wyoming, he got his first ham radio license. But it wasn’t until he moved to the Pacific Northwest, and because of a glitch his license expired, did Kuhlman realize how much he valued ham radio.
“I felt like I lost something,” Kuhlman says of letting his license accidentally expire.
When he moved to Clark County in 2003, he joined the radio club and rekindled his interested in ham radio through the club activities.
“That’s what pulled me back in,” he says.
Though known as amateur radio, ham operators must pass a test to receive an FCC license for the privilege of being on the air, Kuhlman says.
One of the club’s major public service efforts is providing communications for Walk & Knock, dubbed the nation’s largest one-day community food drive, each December. Clark County residents fill food bags and leave them on their doorsteps, with volunteers going door to door to collect the bags. Club members help with logistics that day, such as where volunteers are needed most.
“It’s fun and rewarding,” Kuhlman says of the club’s service activities. “It’s local, and you’re helping the community.”
The club also plays a supporting role in emergency preparedness. For instance, it sponsors EYEWARN in conjunction with the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency and the Clark County Amateur Radio Emergency Service. EYEWARN is a network of amateur radio volunteers who provide reports of damage in their neighborhoods in the event of a disaster.
“The idea is to provide additional information to emergency coordinators so they have a better sense for the scope of a disaster,” Kuhlman says.
Wayne Schuler, who first got a ham radio license in 1957 at age 17 and even built his own transmitter as a youngster, joined the Clark County Amateur Radio Club in 1987. He enjoys the club’s camaraderie and contesting. He has earned awards for talking with other ham radio operators in all 50 states and in 100 countries. Schuler has served the club in various administrative roles, including as president and vice president, and is a volunteer examiner for those who want to obtain a license.
Schuler says amateur radio is a great way to meet and stay connected with others who have an immediate, common interest.
Yasson, whose husband Phil also enjoys ham radio, says being on the air is like “another way to travel.” The Yassons will sometimes take a ham radio in the car with them and communicate with others while they’re on the road, with one driving and the other transmitting.
In addition, Phil Yasson has through contesting communicated with other hams in all 3,077 U.S. counties — three times — through a process known as “county hunting.”
What is ham radio? Amateur radio operators are also known as radio amateurs or hams. The term "ham" as a pejorative nickname for amateur radio operators was first heard in 1909 by operators in commercial and professional radio communities. The word was subsequently embraced by the operators, and stuck. However, the term did not gain widespread usage in the United States until around 1920, after which it slowly spread to other English-speaking countries.
Learn more about Clark County Amateur Radio Club at w7aia.org.