Amateur Radio Club returns after 10 years to MU

The newly-revived club is planning to participate in Field Day on June 27, where they will to set up their radios and try to make as many contacts nationwide as possible.

For some people, the term “ham radio” conjures up mental images of a grandpa in a dark basement, fiddling with knobs, trying to pick up a staticky signal. The Mizzou Amateur Radio Club is back from a decade-long hiatus and hopes to change that perception.

“A large chunk of what I can do on the Internet, I can do while the power’s out (with amateur radios),” club member Justin Yesis said. “I can talk to space, to China or just about anybody I want to from a car battery in my office.”

The club existed at MU until it fizzled out in the early 2000s. Now, the club has been revived, owns new equipment and is planning several events to get students involved in using amateur, or ham, radios.

“Ham radio is the hobby of playing with radio waves, at its essence,” Yesis said. “What that means for most people is, ‘I can talk to people all over the world for fun.’ It also means we can build our own radios and not have the government certify them. Our license is certification enough.”

Yesis graduated from MU last semester with a degree in electrical engineering and is helping to restart the club. He explained that from a technical perspective, ham radio is similar to other communication systems.

“Your cell phone is just a radio,” Yesis said. “The only difference is that it talks a very short range to a tower that’s a couple hundred meters from here, and that tower is connected to wires, which route your signal wherever you want it to go. Ham radio is no different. It’s just that you’re not connecting something that’s going to relay over wires. You’re connecting through air, through space.”

Phil Gresham, the club president, holds an “Amateur Extra” class license, the most advanced available. He was the driving force behind the club’s revival.

“Our goal in restarting the club was to try to advocate for and inspire students to join into amateur radio and be part of that community, and to build it up,” Gresham said.

Gresham’s personal interest in ham radios began with his grandfather, who became a licensed ham radio operator while in seminary school. When Gresham was 12 years old, he earned a license of his own. Gresham said that earning a license at a young age is not as difficult as it may seem.

“It doesn’t really require that much math; it’s a great way to get into science, technology and the STEM fields for people who are not necessarily going to go and become electrical or computer engineers,” Gresham said.

Gresham stressed that ham radio is not only for engineers. In fact, his degree is in fine arts, and he’s currently in MU’s graduate program in printmaking.

“So much of it is accessible to anybody,” Gresham said. “It jumps across all fields.”

David Larsen, the club’s faculty adviser, is a forestry professor who was active in MU’s ham radio club as a student in the ’70s. He said the club has never had a large number of members, but there are always interested students.

“People are curious, and they live in an area where they don’t have access to other hams,” Larsen said. “So they come to campus and they want to learn about it.”

Two faculty members are now involved in club leadership – an adviser and a trustee. Larsen explained that having both faculty members play active roles will help prevent the problem that caused the previous club to disappear.

“Students change, but faculty also change,” he said. “There was one adviser, and he left the university and didn’t pass (the club) on to anybody else. We’re just trying to set it up so there’s some continuity. People come and go. So you want to have at least one person who can pass it on to the new person that comes.”

Dale Musser, the director of the IT program and an associate teaching professor in the Computer Science Department, is the trustee for the group. He explained that according to the Federal Communications Commission rules, the trustee cannot run the organization; the trustee has separate responsibilities.

“I basically have the equipment,” Musser said. “Because Lafferre Hall is undergoing renovation, which is where we were going to have the club station, that space is going to get destroyed. In the meantime, when students want to get on the air, they get the equipment from me, and they go set it up somewhere.”

As the trustee, besides storing the equipment, Musser is also responsible for securing a license from the FCC to operate the radios. Originally, the club was given a random call sign, a set of letters denoting the identity of a licensed operator. But he applied for a custom call sign, and selected W0ZOU.

The club’s next major scheduled activity is participating in Field Day, a national emergency preparedness event organized by the American Radio Relay League, the largest ham radio advocacy group in the country.

“Basically, you take your entire emergency radio set and set it up in a park,” Gresham said. “Everybody tries to make as many contacts as far as they can. And we award ourselves points.”

The MU club is joining with the city club for the event, which will take place beginning at 1 p.m. June 27 at Rock Bridge Park and runs for the rest of the weekend.

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