By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Last line of defense
Placeholder Image

With the advent of the cell phone, many thought amateur radio operators might go the way of the dinosaur.

But years later, amateur radio operators are still going strong. In Newton County alone there are 21 amateur radio operators including Charles Davis, the amateur radio emergency coordinator for Newton County.

Davis, 67, said that despite the popularity of cell phones, traffic over radio lines has not really been affected.

"We still handle an awful lot of traffic," Davis said. "Plus if you have any kind of bad weather, your cell phone is not going to work anyway. But we can get through anyway because we're not dependant on infrastructure. We carry our own infrastructure with us."

Many amateur radio operators showed their worth when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Davis said.

"During Katrina, the public communications were not there," Davis said. "It was gone, so it was strictly the amateur radio operators providing communications for everything including the police and fire and the whole nine yards. And they had to do that for a long time after Katrina. It's just a service we perform for the public."

 Amateur radio - or "ham" radio - operators use the National Traffic System (NTS) to communicate across the U.S. This system has several classifications for their messages, the most serious of which are emergency messages and health and welfare messages.

"During Katrina and Rita, there were an awful lot of health and welfare messages sent out," Davis said. "Many of these were people wondering about their loved ones. Are they OK and where are they? So a lot of that kind of traffic was handled to locate that individual and find out what shelter their in."

While nothing so serious has happened in Newton County, Davis said there is a plan in place just in case.

"A call would come from the Emergency Management Agency to activate the Newton County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) group," Davis said. "And we would then swing into action. Our operators would go to wherever we were needed. Generally we would deploy to the Emergency Operations Center to set up communications there and then go into the field."

Ham radio operators are often called in during tornados and floods, Davis said, but not all amateur radio operations are so serious. On any given day, ham radio operators chat with one another or sent radiograms across country.

"The National Traffic System is set up to where if anyone has a message to send to someone across the state, you can give it to a local ham radio operator and have it sent," Davis said. "If you sent that message out at eight in the morning, no later than eight the next morning that message should be delivered. But generally it's a whole lot faster than that."

Most of these messages are happy birthdays or anniversaries. Davis recently spoke another radio operator who had handled 3,000 such messages that month alone.

Davis has been a ham radio operator for more than 43 years and considers the volunteer work his favorite hobby.

"I've had a lot of hobbies through my life, but none that has been as rewarding as the amateur radio," Davis said. "None that I learned more from. To be in it, you have to have the basics of electronics to pass your licensing tests, but after you're in, you learn more and more and it is just fascinating."

Davis retired to Newton County after serving as a deputy fire marshal for Clayton County where he investigated arsons. A widower, Davis has three children, two of whom live in the area.

He is currently the manager of the Georgia Traffic Net, the Salvation Army Emergency coordinator for Georgia, the founder and president of the Newton County Radio Club and is the vice president of the Georgia Single Sideband Association.

He is certified to use high frequency, VHF, UHF, CW and digital radios.