Schools throughout the country have radio clubs to teach students about the music industry, the practice of communication, and the craft of engaging an audience, but for Loften High School (Gainesville), its radio experience is a bit different.
Loften has a fully functioning HAM radio station, K4WTL, that allows kids to communicate with people in about 45 different states and 20 different countries.
The general idea of HAM radio is it’s an amateur radio service that brings people, electronics, and communication together. It is used to converse with individuals in town, around the country, and even the world.
“It’s unique,” said Mark Smith, director and chief of the Academy of Fire and EMS at the Professional Academies Magnet, in a phone interview. “Not many people have HAM radios these days. It is like a dying hobby, but the older generation is really enthusiastic about passing it down to the next generation.”
Smith, with trustee Dr. Bob Lightner’s help, supports and teaches the 50 students involved with the radio.
Smith sets up 15-minute blocks throughout the days of the week with a rotation of four students per block.
“Everyone has an opportunity to talk on the radio,” said Smith. “It is a requirement for my class because the students need to get comfortable talking on the radio,” said Smith.
The HAM radio is a feature of the Academy of Fire and Emergency Medical Services at the Professional Academies Magnet.
Students who partake in the Academy of Fire and EMS go through two curriculum courses considered electives that count toward a student’s high school graduation requirements.
In addition to the two curriculum tracks, students go through three firefighting courses. Once completed, the combination of curriculum and courses equates to a state of Florida Firefighter 1 certification.
Smith notes that students don’t have to participate with the Academy of Fire and EMS to be involved with HAM radio.
“It is open to all students,” said Smith. “It ties in with the Academy of Fire because firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics are talking on the radio. So, we’re communicating back and forth with the dispatch center and other units. We deal with frequencies, so it’s a two-way communication, where one person must stop talking before the next person can talk.”
The school’s HAM radio station was one of 12 stations across North America that participated in a special event for the 100th anniversary of National Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 9–15.
Students used a special call sign, N4F, for the event.
Loften students made air contact with other HAM radio stations and passed along fire safety tips related to the theme, ‘Fire Won’t Wait, Plan Your Escape,’ to over 1,000 people.
Some other yearly events for the group are school club roundups and National EMS week in the spring.
“I just love the enthusiasm and constant learning,” said Smith. “It isn’t a required class or activity, so seeing the students really take a liking to the amateur radio just gives them another interest or hobby.”