woman sitting at a table with various radio equipment
Source: Audry Groff, AJ2H

Amateurs of Action – The Women of Radio

Amateur radio clubs serve as microcosms where participants can learn about technology and build and contribute to a rich blend of technical discussions, skillsets, and strategies. These clubs provide opportunities to excel in skills essential for effective communication and collaboration within the amateur radio environment. Radio operators actively contribute to ham radio’s disaster communication, task management, and analytical reasoning found in risk management and troubleshooting scenarios.

To participate in amateur radio, also known as ham radio, individuals must obtain a license from their country’s telecommunications authority, such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States. The licensing process typically involves passing an exam covering basic radio theory, regulations, and operating procedures. Licenses are divided into different classes, each granting privileges to access specific frequency bands and modes of communication. Adherence to FCC rules and regulations is essential for all amateur radio operators, ensuring orderly and responsible service operation. From station identification to technical standards compliance, these regulations uphold the integrity of the amateur radio community, fostering a culture of collaboration, innovation, and public service among its participants.

About Ham Radio

Amateur radio is a vibrant hobby and public service that enables licensed individuals to communicate globally using a variety of radio frequencies. With a history of over a century, amateur radio enthusiasts engage in diverse activities ranging from traditional voice communication to cutting-edge digital modes and satellite operations. Some of the opportunities that operators explore include:

  • Science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) outreach and education with signal triangulation events such as high-altitude ballooning;
  • Radio astronomy – when they find and identify a newly discovered comet, they get to name it;
  • Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) communications, where they use the Moon in radio communications;
  • Talking to NASA Astronauts on board the International Space Station;
  • Contesting, where they make contact with other ham radio operators for points to acquire awards;
  • Skydiving and making as many voice contacts as possible before reaching the ground;
  • Morse code, or CW; and
  • Comradery and community with fellow operators.

Beyond its abundant recreational aspects, ham radio is a vital communication lifeline during emergencies, providing resilient communication channels when traditional infrastructure fails. Amateur radio works when all other communications fail for any reason – for example, fast-moving forest fires, unexpected tornado activity, or traditional cell phone disruptions due to a solar storm. Many amateur radio operators volunteer their skills and equipment to support disaster response efforts, facilitating critical information exchange between emergency responders, government agencies, and affected communities.

Organizations within amateur radio observe and train each month to provide resources when needed most. For example:

  • Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES), which the National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) sponsors in the United States;
  • Skywarn, which includes Amateur Radio Severe Weather Watchers who the National Weather Service trains to observe and report severe weather conditions; or
  • Amateur Radio Auxiliary Communications (AuxComm) teams in local communities nationwide.

The ARES and AuxComm programs emphasize training, coordination, and interoperability among volunteer communicators and public safety agencies, ensuring effective communication and information exchange in times of crisis. By augmenting existing communication infrastructure with resilient amateur radio networks and volunteer expertise, they enhance emergency response capabilities and help safeguard communities during challenging situations.

Women in Radio

Promoting women in leadership roles is reaping big rewards in emergency management and is proving critical to preparedness. These women foster visibility and influence within the amateur radio community by speaking over the airwaves. Recognizing the importance of role models in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), they encourage other women to become actively involved in STEM fields, programs, and scholarships. This article shares their diverse life experiences and sheds light on their unique perspectives.

Embracing greater participation of women in amateur radio clubs not only prioritizes diversity but also fosters collaboration and engagement between all licensed amateur radio operators and emergency management operations. Initiatives within the amateur radio community to attract and support women include mentorship programs, supportive social networks, inclusion events at conferences, presentations and talks by women leaders, and community meet-ups. Through these opportunities and programs for male and female operators, there is a rise in influential women to help grow and strengthen the amateur radio community.

In the world of amateur radio, there is a dynamic group of women who are breaking barriers and contributing significantly to emergency preparedness initiatives. These women are enthusiasts and active leaders who bring unique perspectives to the field. From aerospace engineers to animal veterinarians and communication tower climbers, they exemplify the diversity within the amateur radio community.

Nancy Hall KC4IYD – Connecting Communities Through Aerospace Expertise

Nancy Rabel Hall, KC4IYD, a research scientist and project manager at the NASA Glenn Research Center, is a trailblazer in the amateur radio community. As the Young Ladies Radio League (YLRL) District 8 chair – encompassing Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia – Nancy is committed to fostering excellence in amateur radio by guiding the YLs (Young Ladies = Female Amateur Radio Operators) in her district. The YLRL is an organization that fosters amateur radio interest and proficiency among women of all ages. Her engagement with local Girl Scout councils is particularly impactful. For example, Nancy led an activity with the Girl Scouts of North East Ohio (GSNEO) that enabled the group to ask astronauts real-time questions via ARISS (Amateur Radio on International Space Station).

As the president of the NASA Glenn Amateur Radio Club, NA8SA, Nancy combines her technical expertise with a passion for emergency communications and community service. She bridges the gap between NASA Glenn employees and the community by encouraging participation in Field Day events, emergency communications, and the year-long NASA On The Air events, highlighting NASA milestones.

Nancy is a sentinel for YLs, showcasing that women belong and thrive in technical STEM careers. She does this by bringing in high school interns during the summer and college interns during the Fall and Spring terms to work alongside her. Her engaging approach highlights STEM careers as intriguing, exciting, and enjoyable. She also shows the students the collaborative aspects and how they foster innovative environments available to anyone. Juggling dual roles as a ham radio operator and seasoned engineer at NASA, Nancy exemplifies the boundless possibilities that unfold when individuals pursue their passions in STEM fields. She emerges as an exceptional mentor (called an Elmer) within the amateur radio community, inspiring those who aspire to follow in her footsteps.

woman holding a microphone for a young girl with other girls in the background
Nancy, KC4IYD, holds a microphone for a Daisy Girl Scout who is the first person to talk to astronaut Jack Fischer (Source: ARRL Photos).

Patricia “Tricia” Olson, KØTRD, Radio Club President

Tricia Olson, KØTRD, differs from the typical radio enthusiast. By profession, she is a veterinarian who brings a unique perspective to the technical world of amateur radio. As the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association (WØTLM) president, Tricia demonstrates that amateur radio leadership is open to those with less technical professional backgrounds. Her commitment to amateur radio, emergency preparedness, and community service proves that diverse skills are invaluable in building resilient communication networks.

Under Tricia’s leadership, WØTLM has flourished into a vibrant hub of radio operators by infusing the club with camaraderie and fostering an environment where members can engage in the dual pursuits of learning and fun. As a Colorado not-for-profit organization, the club actively commits to creating a welcoming space and opportunities for members to forge connections, seek assistance, and find mentorship at local parks, meetings, meet-ups, activities, workshops, and get-togethers. The club focuses on advancing the knowledge of emergency communication skills and amateur radio topics. WØTLM has become a beacon of community, learning, and support, embodying the positive impact that dedicated individuals can have on amateur radio clubs.

A woman and two men sitting at a table with radio equipment
Tricia Olson, KØTRD, works with her team at an AERC-sanctioned equine endurance race (Source: WØTLM Photos).

Keri Varela, N2KNK, Climbing Towers, Breaking Barriers

Keri Varela, N2KNK, breaks stereotypes as a communications tower climber and radio network engineer. With a strong background in climbing, Keri has significantly contributed to the amateur radio community by enhancing communication infrastructure in challenging terrains. Her work truck, filled with communications hardware, repair equipment, repelling rope, hard hats, tool belts, and handheld transceiver radios, is a testament to her expertise. Notably, it also features unique touches like pink Hello Kitty and vanity callsign stickers, adding a vibrant element to her story. Keri leads by example, inspiring those who may feel constrained by traditional expectations. One of her accomplishments is that she single-handedly built the Western Colorado (WestCO) repeater network with ten sites and ever-growing capabilities. Keri emphasizes the importance of diversity in the field.

Beyond conquering the heights of Rocky Mountain peaks for communication network towers, Keri shares her wisdom, kindness, and mentorship as an ambassador at the local club. Her subtle yet impactful presence encourages others to embrace their voices and individuality. Keri’s influence creates positive change within the community, making extraordinary contributions to the world around her.

A woman in a pink shirt waving from a radio tower
Keri Varela, N2KNK, is a professional communication tower climber doing maintenance and repairs on one of the ten (and growing) WestCO fully linked repeater sites she built herself (Source: Keri Varela photo collection).

Heatherly Takeuchi, N6HKT, Coordinating Communication for Silicon Valley

Heatherly Takeuchi, N6HKT, is an acclaimed author and STEM Tudor. Alongside her husband, Tim, W6TST, she stands as an indomitable force in the heart of Silicon Valley, leaving an indelible mark on the amateur radio community. At the forefront of coordination for hundreds of volunteer examiners’ amateur radio license testing sessions, Heatherly’s influence extends far beyond amateur radio testing and licensing. Her true inspiration lies in how she seamlessly integrates newcomers into the amateur radio landscape, introducing them to the local clubs and organizations they might not otherwise discover.

Her level of friendship and guidance transcends the confines of traditional engagement as she establishes herself as a vital connector, linking valuable shared resources within the San Benito, California, community. As a conduit for physical and communication support, she plays a pivotal role in annually celebrated community events, ranging from small hometown parades to globally recognized affairs like the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, and the International Lifetime Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California. Heatherly has become a hub of community connection, fostering goodwill and positive relationships through public service opportunities.

Heatherly’s impact extends into emergency preparedness education and training courses, where she collaborates closely with professional emergency service organizations in her area. She helps bring cutting-edge techniques and procedures taught by subject matter experts in their Auxiliary Communications Service/Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (ACS/RACES) and emergency operations center to the public. This tailored training addresses the specific needs and potential threats by providing access to current procedures and regional support. Her involvement exemplifies the integral role of amateur radio in supporting, aiding, and assisting the public in partnership with professional emergency services to extend the positive effects of collaboration for public safety management and increased community engagement. She builds a legacy of service, connection, and positive influence with each new batch of amateur radio operators she graduates.

Woman holding a gun at a shooting range
Heatherly Takeuchi, N6HKT, at the San Benito County Emergency Preparedness Firearms Training given by The Well-Armed Woman and U.S. Concealed Carry Association (Source: Heatherly Takeuchi’s photo collection).

A Call for More Amateurs of Action

These women represent the spectrum of talented amateur radio operators nationwide, proving that emergency management and preparedness are everyone’s responsibility. There is a place for everyone within the amateur radio community. Their technical expertise, leadership skills, and diverse life experiences strengthen amateur radio communication networks and build robust communication systems for emergency preparedness. Amateur radio is more than just a hobby. It is a community of individuals with varied talents working together to make a difference when it matters most.

To learn more about how to get an amateur radio license, visit ARRL (The National Association for Amateur Radio) at https://www.arrl.org/get-involved

To join a social media group for women in amateur radio, visit Ham Radio Women at https://www.facebook.com/groups/186742552588173

Desiree Baccus

Desiree Baccus, N3DEZ, is a dedicated emergency management professional with a passion for amateur radio. She plays vital roles in many amateur radio and emergency response groups, such as Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and NASA Ames Research Center’s Disaster Assistance & Rescue Team (DART), showcasing her expertise and dedication to emergency communications. She also has served as the secretary and vice chair for the Colorado Federal Executive Board (CFEB) Emergency Preparedness Council (EPC), where she worked toward enhancing emergency response capabilities in her state. As a member of the Amateur Radio Relay League’s (ARRL) Public Relations Committee, she promotes amateur radio and its benefits to the public. Her previous roles include video production control coordinator and supply chain manager of IT warehouse safety officer at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, source evaluation board recorder at NASA Glenn Research Center, and administrative specialist for the Office of the Center Director at NASA Ames Research Center.



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