The Ratcliff family, parents Jennifer and Scott Ratcliff and children Estee, Gideon and Rebecca have become certified ham radio operators.
The Ratcliffs are also members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Services, meaning they will volunteer to use their equipment to help with communication during times of diaster. The local chapter makes up a local net which has weekly meetings where operators test their equipment and receive ARES training.
“A lot of the information that the National Weather Service receives is from ham operators,” Jennifer Ratcliff said.
“We have firsthand information (from the areas affected),” Gideon added.
Scott Ratcliff’s desire to become a ham radio operator was born out of tragedy. When tornadoes tore through Bradley County on April 27, 2011, the Ratcliffs’ neighborhood was affected.
“We had very little communication outside of our home. The cell service didn’t work and finally we got to where we could text,” Scott Ratcliff said. “That’s what really led us to amateur radio.”
His wife, Jennifer, said Scott proceeded to get the family involved.
“He just felt like it was something our family needed to do,” she said.
Scott Ratcliff passed his technician certification test last April. Jennifer passed the test in July. Gideon passed it in August at the age of 11. Estee, then 9, passed it in November.
Rebecca passed her technician certification last month at the age of 7. Locally, she is the youngest known certified ham radio operator. The family believes she is the youngest in the nation until evidence is provided to the contrary. Since those applying for certification do not put their birthdate on any forms, there is no way to confirm she is the youngest, according to her mom.
Scott has gone on to pass his general certification. The rest are working on their general certification.
Gideon, Estee and Rebecca were a little apprehensive at first because of the challenge and time involved in passing the tests.
“Right now, they don’t understand the importance of what it can do later in their lives,” Scott said.
To get the children more excited about the process, their parents offered rewards for each child as they completed the first level of certification. Estee was offered weekly riding lessons. Rebecca was offered tumbling lessons. Gideon was offered money.
Estee said when Gideon completed the test it made her want to pass it also. Rebecca said she was excited to pass.
The technician certification test consists of 35 questions about ham radio operations and electronic terms. Estee said preparing for the test was difficult at first. However, when she began memorizing some of the information it became easier.
Certified operators have three levels: Technician, General and Extra. The higher the level of certification the more frequencies available to a radio operator. Scott Ratcliff said efforts are being made to have certain frequencies for emergency use across the region.
“When conditions are right, on the 10 meter band (the frequencies open to those with their Technician certification) you (have the capability to) talk around the world,” Scott Ratcliff said.
He pointed out he has spoken with people in Indiana and New York on the radios.
Atmospheric conditions and the antennae on the radio are the main factors of how far and how well the radio signal carries.
“Everything in ham radio is a challenge,” Scott Ratcliff said.
After studying different types of ham radios, Scott Ratcliff settled on a portable radio. He and Gideon built the antennas for the radios. Jennifer Ratcliff said she and Scott each have one in their cars.
Each radio operator has a call sign. Gideon said radio operators have to give their call sign every 10 minutes.
The Amateur Radio Club has been supportive during the family’s endeavors.