Mile High Radio Club passes 25-year mark

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The Mile High Radio Club is celebrating its 25th year of operation on the Hill this year. Carroll Lindholm, George Covington and others founded the group in 1989.

Today, President Bill Tell says the club has 65 members. “We have a lot of strong people with independent skills sets,” Tell said. The individual components create a stronger whole. “They complement each other and fit well as a group.”

Tell relates the efforts of Tom Pierce, who teaches licensed amateur radio class. “His unwavering commitment has added more than 25 licensed amateur radio operators to our ranks.”

Tom Unwin, who manages MHRC’s new portable repeater, is another invaluable member. “The portable repeater allows for us to provide for communications into remote canyons or areas not currently served by our fixed-site repeaters and can be set up within an hour,” Tell said.

The club, like many local groups, depends exclusively on volunteers who care about the community. That’s its origins in the 1980s and carried through today. But each volunteer came from a different background and found common interests with their MHRC colleagues.

Tell acquired his interest in amateur radio from his grandfather. On many sailing adventures, he heard and learned the skills of ship-to-shore communications. The late Covington tutored him for his amateur license and he has been an MHRC member since 2000.

The club is hoping to negotiate an agreement with the Idyllwild Fire Protection District to assume responsibility for operating the Hill’s emergency radio station, WNKI (1610 AM), also a project Covington founded.

Tell says he is optimistic that the agreement’s approval is in the near future. Since Bob McCullough retired as WNKI’s manager in the fall of 2012, the position has been vacant, although volunteers have kept it functioning. But MHRC has offered to manage the station and bring the club’s expertise to its dials and antenna.

And Tell sees even more exciting projects in the future. This would include updating the equipment to more current standards, such as less dependence on satellite transmissions.

Amateur video may be on the horizon, too, he said. This may be useful during fires to transmit on-site conditions to incident commanders.

In the present, MHRC is in the midst of negotiating the transfer of two repeater sites — one in Anza and the other in Pine Cove — to the club. This will continue and improve the coverage on the Hill.

This is a busy time of the year for the MHRC. This weekend, June 28 and 29, is the annual Field Day, when, MHRC will join with other amateur radio operators throughout the region and country. It’s a 24-hour event from 11 a.m. Saturday until 11 a.m. Sunday.

While the public is always welcome to visit the MHRC site on Highway 243 across from the ICC property, on Field Day this year the club is providing hamburgers and hot dogs. “The burgers start hitting the buns by 12 noon on Saturday the 28th and feeds ’til the supplies run out,” Tell said. Besides food, visitors can learn how to get their own radio license.

Within a week after Field Day, the club provides the communications support for the Rotary’s annual Independence Day parade. This year, former MHRC President Bob Baker is co-grand marshal of the parade, along with Smokey Bear.

A few weeks later, MHRC provides the communications support for the annual Lemon Lily Festival. Volunteers transmit information between the Nature Center and the town venues.

Finally, in August, MHRC also provides communication on site for the annual Jazz in the Pines. The club keeps festival volunteers at the French Quarter, Amphitheater, Green Room and active sites in touch with each venue and without overlapping conversation and confusion.

“It’s a busy period for MHRC. I’m just one person representing 65,” Tell emphasized. “A lot of good people behind me.”

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