By Louisa Danielson
For IN|Fort Wayne publications
Living a life without sight hasn’t prevented Chad Beach from pursing his passions. He has worked as an entertainer, a drummer and singer and a traffic reporter. He is also somewhat of a celebrity in the realm of amateur radio.
Amateur radio operators, also known as hams, use radios to communicate with others across town, in different states and around the world. Some hams can even communicate with the International Space Station, when conditions and equipment are working just right.
An early interest
Beach’s introduction to the world of ham radio started at an early age.
“My initial introduction to amateur radio was fed, at least initially, by broadcast radio,” he said.
At the age of three or four, he was listening to WMAQ, a country music station in Wisconsin. Growing up in the 1970s, he enjoyed hearing the jingles coming over the air waves and listening to the announcers.
He attended a school for the blind in Oklahoma. To get to school, he took a bus and one of his fellow passengers was an amateur radio operator. Beach remembers the man was able to do a “phone patch” over his radio – essentially, he could call a phone number without the benefit of using telephone lines.
In the days before cell phones were commonplace, the technology amazed Beach. By the age of 10, he was fixated on the idea of amateur radio. A few years later, he learned Morse code, which used to be required for the test to earn an amateur radio operator license.
In February of 1991, Beach became a novice, the first level of amateur radio licensure available at that time. In September of 1993, he upgraded to technician class. He passed tests for communicating at 13 and 20 words per minute in Morse code. He became an active member of the amateur radio movement.
Keeping the public safe
These days, Beach works as a traffic reporter for radio stations in Tennessee. As a ham, he serves as “net control” for public service events and SkyWarn, a national network of volunteer severe weather spotters. This means that he is a dispatcher, accepting reports and relaying information from hams to other hams.
Amateur radio operators volunteer during emergencies and at special events, like the Ronald McDonald House Charities bike ride, or the March of Dimes March for Babies. In this volunteer capacity, operators help coordinate emergency communication, keeping an eye out for trouble and radioing in to a net control station when something happens. Hams help out from emergency medical services to lost people and missing signage.
Being blind hasn’t impaired his ability as an amateur radio operator, Beach said, adding that there is a lot of support in the community.
“I haven’t seen many challenges with that,” he said. “The community at large has been wonderful [for lending a hand when I need to put up an antenna or anything like that].”
He added that, with improvements in technology, there are now more ways in which radios are constructed, so as to give audible signals like beeps and musical scale tones to let operators know what functions are being used on the radio.
When other communication systems, like telephones and the internet, are cut off, radio waves are still available. “Radio as a whole – you can’t jam it up,” Beach said. This makes hams very useful during disasters like terrorism, tornados, floods and any other time communication systems fail.
“We fill in the gaps,” he said.
To practice their emergency communication skills, amateur radio operators hold an annual event called Field Day. Across the United States and Canada June23-24, hams will practice setting up radio equipment, antennas and generators so that they can communicate with others across the world.
This year, the Fort Wayne Radio Club will hold its Field Day in the Old Fort downtown. While the event has a practical purpose, Beach said there’s a lot of great camaraderie between hams, too.
“It’s fun and readiness wrapped in one – you can’t say that about many things,” he said.
Playing a role in protecting life and property is rewarding, Beach said. He also enjoys making friends over the airwaves, with people who live nearby and those who live hundreds of miles away.
“I just love being on the radio,” he said. “There is a place for everybody.”
2018 Field Day
What: Emergency preparedness event hosted by the Fort Wayne Radio Club
When: June 23-24, beginning on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Where: The Old Fort, 1201 Spy Run Ave., Fort Wayne