More than just a hobby
Chris Meacham of Manila is a licensed Amateur Radio operator, sometimes called ham radio operator. His interest started in 2013 as a hobby and has developed into a very real service for the citizens in the community and the county.
Meacham was watching YouTube videos showing emergency type services and emergency communication. The more he researched the subject, the more interested he became.
Meacham studied, took the general test and received his license. He is currently a volunteer examiner. He is always ready to share information with anyone who is interested.
There are three levels of licenses: Technician, an entry-level license of choice for most new ham radio operators; General, which grants some operating privileges on all amateur radio bands and operating modes; and the Extra Class.
Meacham is also studying to take the examination for the Extra Class license. He has the equipment and is working on learning Morse Code.
“It is amazing Morse Code is still active,” Meacham said. “It was one of the first forms of communication connecting long distances.”
Amateur Radio is different than a CB radio. CB is a single band radio for short distances and operators do not need a license.
The Amateur Radio is much more far reaching. The high frequency can put operators in contact all over the world. There are ham radio satellites in orbit.
“The international space station has amateur radio,” Meacham said. “We can make contact with the station and know where it is passing over.
“Amateur Radio is a valued tool for emergency communication,” Meacham said. “It has been around a long time. Every time there has been a national disaster, hams get together, and set up on generators, sometimes build their own antennas and help provide communication in all situations.”
Meacham belongs to the Mississippi County Amateur Radio Association.
Once an operator receives a license, he or she is assigned a call sign. Meacham's call sign is KG5EAA. He is one of the youngest operators in the area.
“We are a small group of about five or six and we cover the area well,” Meacham said.
Meacham encourages anyone who is interested to contact him at (870) 278-7216.
He said they would love to have more involvement and maybe organize a Sky Warn Chapter for the area.
Wayne Reynolds serves as the emergency operations coordinator for the Mississippi County team and Steve Crosskno serves as the emergency communication officer.
“We have repeaters at the Dell Fire Station and the Blytheville Courthouse,” he said. “The Dell repeater is linked to other areas across the states. If there is severe weather or a need for assistance, we can get out the information."
Amateur radios have been used during recent hurricanes relaying messages through Meacham's radio.
“These radios can help get the word out to save lives in emergency situations,” Meacham said. “We have a saying, 'when all else fails'.”
There is no monetary compensation for these members of the Mississippi County Ham Radio Association. Everything they do is volunteer. It is a group of people working on their own time with their own equipment.
Meacham has made contact with operators in Jamaica, Belize, China, Japan, Russia and more.
One of the most interesting contacts was from a helicopter pilot flying near Manila.
“He told me he needed fuel and I informed him he could land and fuel up at the Manila Airport,” Meacham said. “He thanked me and invited us to the airport to meet him. He took us for a helicopter ride over Manila.”
Amateur Radio operators can design and use QSL cards to confirm contact with other operators. The cards can be shared and they have a log on with call numbers, dates, time and frequency used. Meacham is using a copy of the original Manila signature painting by Dan Donovan which features the Herman Davis Monument, old train depot, Big Lake and more local sights.
Meacham said another Amateur Radio operator in Manila is John Parsley.
Meacham is busy with his business. He is owner/operator of Meacham Heating and Air, serves as a reserve deputy on the Mississippi County Sheriff's Department. In his spare time, he enjoys communicating with people, making new friends. He has talked to people as far away as California and Florida and keeps a log of who they are and where they're calling from.
It is estimated there are 700,000 licensed Amateur Radio operators in America and 3 million worldwide which will give Meacham a lot of potential future contacts.