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Bolingbrook Ham radio club provides more than just a hobby

Published: Monday, March 17, 2014 3:08 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:33 a.m. CDT
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BOLINGBROOK – Cellphone towers are down, as is the internet. Land lines don't work either. Communication, as we have utilized it over the past decade, ceases to exist.

Luckily for local residents, there is a group of communicators prepared for the above doomsday scenario, a team of operators that when all else fails is ready to get the word out.

They're the Bolingbrook Amateur Radio Society (BARS), and although their club name implies they're amateurs, the club members' contributions to the community are big.

The society is a club of about 50 Ham radio operators from the Bolingbrook area – from Joliet to Westmont to Oswego – who gather for monthly meetings, offer an annual Field Day to promote their craft to the community and cultivate friendships among members with common interests.

But, most importantly, BARS is a go-to source during severe weather events, as members double as trained weather spotters, who, upon sighting strong winds, hail or funnel clouds, use Ham radio's wireless communications technology to notify the National Weather Service.

The scenario where all standard communications can fail is very real, according to BARS club president Scott Hagner.

"Ham radio doesn't rely on someone else's infrastructure to communicate," Hagner explained. "When tornadoes hit, cellphone towers can go down. Power can go out, so can land lines.

"When all else fails – and technology has failed and will fail – there's Ham."

Ham radio operators use their own equipment to transmit and receive radio signals. When mobile, they can use handheld devices. When at a base or a station, they use larger equipment.

BARS also assists the community by operating emergency and security communications during local events, such as the Pathways Parade, the Heart Haven Hustle and the Cavalcade of Planes festival at Clow Airport, said Hagner, who works as a chief building engineer at Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital.

"We do it because we want to give back to the community," he added.

Another club member, Will Sperling, has been operating Ham radio for 46 years. A now retired 35-year veteran of the Woodridge Police Department, Sperling knows the importance of the roles BARS plays in local emergency communications.

"Hams are always there whenever the chips are down," he said.

Now a security officer at Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital, the 61-year-old Westmont resident said he likes the service aspect of the Bolingbrook club.

"I am very community-oriented," he said. "There are probably 100 other [Ham radio clubs] in the metro Chicago area, but I am not sure any are as service-oriented as we are."

Hagner said the club's 50 members range from men and women in their 20s to their 70s. Most are in their 50s, he said.

The club is always open to new members. Membership is $25 annually.

"You can start out for about $100 and that will get you a book, walkie-talkie and the test," Hagner said.

Ham radio operators are required to pass a 35-question test before being able to operate the equipment.

"We have people from all walks of life – doctors, cops, lawyers, teachers, preachers. We all love the hobby," Hagner added.

_____

Interested in joining?

Anyone interested in the club or Ham radio can attend a club meeting. BARS meets at 7:30 p.m. on the third Monday of each month at Fire Station #5, 1900 Rodeo Drive in Bolingbrook.

Prospective members can also find more information online at k9bar.org or by emailing  KC9UTC@arrl.net.

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