By Erin Pittman
How many clubs do you know that can boast members with ages ranging from teens to their late 80s? And how about members who span a wide range of careers — like doctors, lawyers, students, engineers, EMTs and veterans? The Manassas-based Ole Virginia Hams have all this and more.
Ole Virginia Hams is a local amateur radio club, which was founded in 1958 and today has nearly 80 active members. You may have heard of the radio amateurs, or “hams,” whose hobby lets them communicate all the way around the world using shortwave signals — not the internet or cellular infrastructure. Members all share the desire to serve the community, improve their technical knowledge and enjoy the fellowship of like-minded people at club events.
You may wonder why we need hams with today’s technology.
“Most people aren’t aware of the large infrastructure needed to support cell service or its vulnerability to power outages and natural disasters,” said club vice-president Jeff Fuller. “While some cell sites are equipped with backup generators, many have only a few hours of backup battery power. And large-scale disasters like hurricanes can destroy cell towers and other essential infrastructure needed to maintain service.”
During Hurricane Michael in 2018, hams from Amateur Radio Emergency Service, or ARES, provided critical emergency communications until regular services were restored. Many of the Manassas club members stand ready to provide the same services and support to the Prince William community, if needed.
To stay prepared and up to date on emergency procedures, many members of the Ole Virginia Hams attend monthly training with ARES and CERT, the Community Emergency Response Team.
“At these training sessions, we get filled in on the latest info on interfacing with the county,” said Fuller.
Members also use their skills to give back to the community in other ways, such as supporting nonprofit events and gathering toys for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Program around the holidays.
“Supporting the Warrior Bike Ride put on by Serve Our Willing Warriors has been my favorite club activity,” said Fuller. “The bicycle ride begins near Haymarket, and they position hams around the circuit to provide communication. You get to meet a lot of vets going through rehab and those who are part of the bicycle ride.”
In addition to these essential trainings and events, club members attend monthly meetings. Each meeting features presentations talking about a technological aspect of the hobby or information about an upcoming event or activity. One member is a local Boy Scout coordinator who recently shared about an event they have coming up – Jamboree on the Air — which lets scouts talk to other scouts around the world using ham radios.
“Members also bring in things that they build and showcase them, which is really interesting,” said Fuller.
Amateur radio can also be an excellent springboard for youth considering STEM careers. For this reason, the club also awards an annual scholarship to a local high school student attending a university STEM curriculum.
To learn more about the Ole Virginia Hams, or amateur radio in general, visit their website at w4ovh.net. Read the blog, find meeting dates and get information about classes, both online and in person. Meetings are free and open to the public.
Erin Pittman has been a writer for 10 years, but a lover of words her entire life. Her work is published in local magazines and on local and national blogs. Contact Erin at [email protected].