Get Out with Ord: Amateur radio club converses across the globe

By Gus Bode

Editor’s Note: The following is the final installment in a weekly series from campus reporter Genna Ord, spotlighting one of SIUC’s Registered Student Organizations.

In the modest confines of Engineering Building D, room 046, voices carry a long way.

From Italy to Uruguay to the International Space Station, the members of the SIUC Amateur Radio Club have the capability of ‘rag chewing’- making general conversation – with fellow amateur radio operators across the world.


Gregg Sperling, a sophomore from Westmont studying pre-law and president of the organization, said amateur radio is a hobby used for personal communications and emergency use among other things.

‘We have the ability to talk around the world from this room,’ he said.

David Williams, a senior lecturer in the College of Engineering and faculty adviser of the club, said he has talked to fellow amateur radio operators from 145 countries.’

Amateur radio has existed for more than 75 years, he said.

‘Before Facebook, text messaging and walkie-talkies, amateur radio operators were social networking,’ Williams said.

He said an important component is its stability in times of emergency. During the May 8 storm, he said he maintained communication with the Williamson County Emergency Services District while surveying damage from his car.

Hurricane Katrina and the attack on the World Trade Center were instances when amateur radio operators were called in, he said.


Sperling said a lot of money was put into backup infrastructure, including amateur radio, following the Sept. 11 attacks. In the time between the World Trade Center towers going down and standard communications going back up, amateur radio operators were integral in sustaining communication, he said.

Now, every major city in the United States has an amateur radio club, he said.

Sperling said the university’s club has been in existence for more than 30 years, but has been relatively dormant the last four.

The ‘amateur’ standing is because operators in the group cannot be hired, he said. He said there are many rules and regulations, such as the inability to transmit music or use profanity and the requirement to be licensed. It is legal to listen to other conversations and communications such as police chatter.

Andy Miller, a senior from Effingham studying computer science and the vice president of the organization, said there are many uses for amateur radio.

Because frequencies reach beyond Earth, he said, it is possible to talk to astronauts while they are in orbit and possibly more.

‘If aliens existed and were trying to broadcast us, they would probably use the lower frequencies,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t waste my time, though.’

Sperling said the SIUC Amateur Radio Club would meet at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 in Engineering Building D room 102 for anybody interested in the club. He said free pizza and soda would be offered.

Williams said there is immediate gratification in amateur radio, from the first hiss and crackle of the radio to the endless conversations one can have with people from all over the world.

‘You’ll know right there in that first time the mystery and the magic of amateur radio,’ he said.