ARRL

Amateur Radio’s Secret Service

Charles Miller Jr, KD4NGA


The ARRL has many low-profile services that shouldn’t be such a secret.


Now that title may raise some eyebrows but the fact is that there is a “secret service” within Amateur Radio. Not a law enforcement secret service, rather a secret service of specialized Amateur Radio volunteers. These volunteers are among us in our day-to-day Amateur Radio activities. They go the extra mile to provide services to Amateur Radio operators and the hobby itself. I call them “secret” because their roles, and who they are, are not well publicized.

Ham Radio Backup

While the ARRL sponsors many different services, there are some at the section and local level that are not well known. In fact, section members are often not even aware these services exist. This can happen because the section leadership is overwhelmed with other duties. Also, they may not fully understand or appreciate the benefits these various services provide to the hobby.

You may have heard of “Elmers,” now sometimes referred to as “mentors.” Elmers help the newcomer to the hobby and sometimes the older more experienced ham who wants to learn a new facet of ham radio, such as data modes or satellites. I, for one, sincerely appreciate those who serve as Elmers.

Now the “secret service” I refer to consists of other, less known roles that some hams donate their time to. While there are many different roles supporting ham radio, my focus is on the positions that give the mentor role a deeper, more specialize function. Have you ever heard of a Technical Advisor (TA), Technical Specialist (TS), Technical Coordinator (TC) or Volunteer Consulting Engineer (VCE)? These positions are just a few that help ham radio. Those volunteers help others who have a unique problem or provide support for those experimenting in a current or new mode of radio communications.

Your Technical Teammates

So who are these volunteers? The TA serves as the technical expert in a specific area and is appointed by ARRL HQ for a 1 year renewable term. A TS is a section appointment with no set term. While the TS has some expertise in some area or areas, they are not normally a wizard in all things electronic. That is why it is not uncommon to have several TSs in each section. The TS’s primary responsibilities are to provide general technical information and help in resolving RFI issues to hams in his section.

The TC coordinates the types of expertise each TS has. If there is a need for a specific skill, the TC locates a TS with the needed experience and coordinates connecting the TS with the hams requiring assistance. The TC also recruits individuals to serve in various TS positions and remains in contact with individual hams and clubs in his section to help improve the overall technical base.

Often sections either fail to fill the TC position, the TC fails to function or, as in most cases, the service is not well publicized and thus the “secret.” For those sections that have a compliment of TSs and a TC, they should make it a point at least annually to make a presentation at club meetings, hamfests and other gatherings about the technical services that are available to hams in the section.

The Volunteer Consulting Engineer (VCE) program helps Amateur Radio operators who want to put up a tower and must meet structural requirements set forth by local zoning authorities. Again this is a program that does not get much press.

A VCE will meet with you to do an initial consultation on the engineering aspects of the problem. If you wish to retain the VCE to work with you on the tower proposal, you and the VCE can decide which professional services will be required and negotiate the fees involved. As part of their negotiated professional services the VCE may act as an expert witness on your behalf, answering the questions of the zoning board and insuring that the tower meets all requirements.

Those Amateur Radio operators who are registered professional structural, civil or mechanical engineers may, if they wish, become a VCE. If interested, please contact ARRL Regulatory Information Manager Dan Henderson, N1ND, for information about joining the VCE program. If you need the assistance of a VCE, you can find one at the VCE Web page.

Now, at least part of the “secret” is out! To find more information visit the Technical Specialist Web page.


Charles Miller Jr, KD4NGA, an ARRL member, started Amateur Radio back in 1964 in Baltimore. He joined the US Army where he taught electronics and worked repairing AM, FM and microwave radio systems. Charles returned to the Amateur Radio community in 1992 in Milledgeville, Georgia. where he served as Baldwin County ARES EC. He is currently the US Army Corps of Engineers National Program Manager for HF Radio worldwide.

Charles holds the positions of Registered Instructor, Volunteer Examiner, VEC, TS and EC in the Alabama section. He enjoys teaching and helping others in the various facets of our hobby. D-STAR is his latest field of experimentation. Charles can be contacted at 3804 Cabana Sq, #101, Mobile, AL 36609-1616, kd4nga@arrl.net.