Working together, we’ll get it done!
Submitted by Arc Thames – W4CPD
Thankfully in Northwest Florida we have a great relationship among the various clubs and ARES teams within Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa counties. To help further that relationship, we held a meeting at one of the local parks in Santa Rosa County on Saturday July 24 to get together members for all the area clubs to discuss what we can do to better support our new hams as well as get the word out to our community that amateur radio is alive and well in the panhandle. I provided lunch, as we know food always helps get hams together. We had around 25 hams in attendance.
The consensus from observation, is that it seems as if we have the best attendance results to events and activities when we have events that aren’t specifically affiliated with any club or group directly. Prime examples of this are the tailgaters Bob-W5CL have done, the Ham Hands on events, Winter Field Day etc. Many of our club and ARES meetings in the area tend to draw 10-15 people most times, sometimes up to 20, but we know there are many more amateurs in the area. The company I, W4CPD, work for had a slogan a while back that said “Working together, we’ll get it done” and I feel that holds so true to the amateur radio community.
After everyone had a chance to eat, we began discussing what we can do to help each other and our community. I first introduced Bill-WY8O who had started talking about these topics just before COVID hit and shut down the area. We began an open dicussion about some of the ideas that had been tossed around.
The resounding feedback was that it’s hard for people to know what’s going on all the time. While each club or ARES group may have its own Facebook or Web page, there’s no central place to go to find out what’s going on in our area. One of the decisions that was made by this group of people was to establish a single Facebook and Web page for the 3-county area that will have listings of all the local clubs, ARES teams, repeaters, nets, and events. We will be accepting donations to purchase “giveaways” that we can always keep on us such as business cards or pens that list this consolidated Facebook & Web page so that no matter what club you’re from or where you might be when you’re talking to someone about amateur radio, they can find information on the 3 counties in one place. Each club will still maintain their own online presence, but we will link to them and post their events and other information on this consolidated page, for those clubs that wish to. With that, we have purchased and started building nwflhamradio.net and the corresponding Facebook page.
We want to engage and follow up with newly licensed amateur radio operators. We see many people get their license at our meetings and events but hear very few of them get on the air afterwards. We are asking our area clubs to collect the names and email addresses of those that pass their technician test so that we, as a group, can follow up with them within a month after their license exam to see if they need any assistance getting on the air. We also hope to have a pool of handhelds that we can give to those who might not be able to afford one.
The need for establishing a pool of elmers/subject matter experts was discussed. We want to be able to connect amateurs with the right people when they have questions about a particular topic. Additionally, Bob-W5CL, has a radio shop at the Pea Ridge Flea Market in Milton, FL and we plan to have someone there from 10A-1P central each Saturday to be available to help program radios, answer questions, or get someone to the right person who can answer their question. Our elmers would also be available to present at our “ham hands on” events.
Time and time again when we are out in the public, whether it be for Field Day, Beaches/Parks on the Air, or other public operating events, we tend to draw a lot of attention and interest from the public. We will be establishing a special events team that can setup at public places and be prepared to talk with anyone who has questions about getting started in Amateur Radio. Our goal is to setup at as many festivals and fairs as we can to demonstrate our skills and what’s available to the public. Each event we setup at will have brochures available from all the clubs so we can direct someone to the right group based on where they live. Hal-WA5HC, has already reached out to the Pensacola Interstate Fair that is hosted at the end of October in Pensacola, FL and they have offered us free space in their venue to showcase amateur radio.
While we don’t yet have a strategy to address it, the last item we discussed was engaging with the youth in our community. None of us are getting any younger and we need to train up the next generation and get them engaged. We know digital modes are likely the answer to this and plan to ensure we have hotspots and digital radios available at any event we are at so we can demonstrate picking up a radio and talking around the world as well as Winlink for sending email and text messages. There was talk of engaging with local schools as well and the need for those that have retired from their jobs to help in this area as many of us are still employed full time.
Many great ideas were tossed around, and many wonderful things are ahead for our area. I’d like to thank everyone who came out and I’ll keep you, our readers, posted on our progress. If you have any questions, please feel free to email [email protected] and one of our volunteers will get back with you!