Hamming it up
Duke Neeland has a world of experience in chatting.
Neeland is a ham radio operator. Ham, or amateur, radio, is powered by radios of 1,500 watts or less and frequencies regulated by the Federal Communication Commission. Under the FCC requirements, ham radio operators must be licensed before being able to use a ham radio.
Neeland has been a ham operator for 25 years. His classification is amateur extra, the highest level for a ham operator. He said his interest in amateur radio started in his childhood, after learning about it and other aspects of radio while in the Boy Scouts. As he became more experienced, and had the funds to purchase equipment, Neeland built up his radio workstation.
Neeland said anyone interested in purchasing a ham radio could do so for as little as $200. Novice operators sometimes start small with a hand-held radio. However Neeland's setup takes up a bit more space. Outside his De Soto home, he had two antennas one low-frequency antenna that stands nearly 10 feet tall and a 56-foot high frequency antenna that is collapsible to 22 feet.
"It's not so obvious when it cranks down," Neeland said of the high frequency antenna. "It's a little bit more appealing to my wife."
Neeland said he doesn't talk on his radio much during the summer because of a busy schedule. But as fall and winter rolls around, he has more opportunities to search the airwaves. Neeland has talked with people from China, Turkey, Pakistan, Finland and Poland to name a few countries very few. Ham operators are often involved in contests that test how many people they can contact. Each operator has a "QSL" card, which is a type of card that confirms contact.
Monday evening, Neeland contacted Robert Melanson, a firefighter from Canada. Melanson chatted with Neeland about his interest in ham radio and the two talked about their jobs and the location.
"I'm moving away from here no time soon," Melanson said, "I love it up here. It's beautiful country."
Neeland also conversed with a 41-year-old forklift driver from Northern Ireland named Victor
At the end of a conversation such as these, the two parties would agree to exchange their QSL cards via mail. In doing so, each would have an official confirmation of the conversation.
Neeland said he often comes across "county counters," who search the airwaves, looking to contact people by county.
"I've had Russians say 'which county are you in? Oh, I've already got that one in Johnson County,'" Neeland said.
By tracking his confirmed contacts over the years, Neeland has logged in approximately 4,922 contacts as of Monday evening. Neeland said his interest continues because he loves the thought of new discovery.
Ham radio operators do a lot of service work and have been especially valuable during emergencies. But,
as he told Victor from Northern Ireland, Monday night's chat was nothing more than free-time fun.
"This is fishing You never know what you're going to catch," Neeland said.