Radio operators able to earn next level of licensing


After offering entry-level classes for a number of years, the Jefferson County Amateur Radio Club is finally offering a class to earn the next stage of licensing for “ham” radio operators: global reach.

Richard Illman, vice president of the Jefferson County Amateur Radio Club, is an old hand at teaching technician-level licensing classes, but March 16-17 will afford him the opportunity to offer an intensive two-day training for those hoping to earn a general license.

“A technician license gives ham radio operators countywide broadcasting privileges,” Illman said. “A general license bumps that up to worldwide, which becomes useful during a regional disaster.”

Illman noted that only a handful of technician license classes are offered per year, with the most recent one taking place last December, so only “a relatively few folks” have earned general licenses over the past five years.

“It takes an especially motivated student,” Illman said, noting that his general license class runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. that Sunday, with the test immediately following the end of class at 2 p.m. “Other general license classes can last weeks.”

Given that his class is “concentrated” by design, Illman expects his students to obtain their own study guides and run through online practice exams ahead of time.

“Again, this is not for new amateur radio operators,” Illman said. “This is for existing hams.”

While the pace of instruction promises to be rigorous, Illman touted the rewards that a general license can offer, to the ham and their community.

“The Department of Emergency Management divides Jefferson County up into its constituent neighborhoods,” Illman said. “Amateur radio operators in the community can get word to block captains, and help them provide status updates to the (Department) in turn. And with a general license, you can send health and welfare messages to more distant friends and relatives during a disaster, to let them know you’re okay, or that you’ve been evacuated.”

Illman’s technician license classes routinely fill up to capacity, with about 20 students each, and the week before his March 16-17 general license class, he reported that nine people had signed up.

“I advertised this class in Clallam and Kitsap counties and got no response, so this will probably just be Jefferson County folks,” Illman said. “The good news is that smaller class sizes allow more personalization, so I can focus more on the areas where individual students need help.”

While the class itself is free, the test costs $15, and both take place at the Port Townsend Fire Station at 701 Harrison St.

Based on the interest level in this class, Illman suggested that another general license class might follow.

This class comes in the wake of the Rotary Club of East Jefferson County providing a $942.50 grant to the Chimacum School District to purchase an emergency ham radio system, to allow the Chimacum main campus to establish itself as an emergency communication center in the overall neighborhood preparedness plan for Jefferson County.

James Betteley, a special education teacher at Chimacum Elementary, has decades of experience in ham radio operations and disaster preparations, and aims to train the next generation of hams to enroll in Illman’s classes.

“It’s incredible how much kids take an interest in this stuff,” said Betteley, who intends to introduce students to ham radio through an in-school amateur radio club. “When the ground shakes hard enough, you’re going to lose your phone service and probably your internet service as well. How can people communicate their needs to fire and rescue personnel? That’s when the amateur radio operators step up, fully equipped, trained and licensed for emergency communications.”


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