Cottonwood students Matthew Price and Abby Cadol have successfully passed their ham radio operator tests after studying all school year with Jon Spargo.
Submitted photo

Two young Socorroans are newly licensed ham radio operators, thanks to an afterschool program at Cottonwood Valley Charter School and their own hard work.

Fifth-grader Matthew Price, 10, thought why not give becoming an operator a try since his whole family on his dad’s side are licensed.

“It also, it has a lot of electrical components and stuff, so if you choose to be an electrician, you get a little background knowledge on fuse schematics, a little bit of electrical knowledge,” said Price.

Price and 11-year-old Abby Cadol had to learn about ham radio rules and safety—grounds, fuse schematics, and how to avoid getting shocked. They also made their own antennas.

“I always thought walkie-talkies were pretty cool, so I was a little excited to learn that this is like a long-range walkie-talkie,” said Cadol.

The pair practiced answering questions every Tuesday after school with ham radio enthusiast Jon Spargo to prepare for their amateur operator license test. This is the thirteenth year for the ham radio group, which is open to sixth, seventh and eighth graders. Fifth graders are welcome if they can handle some simple algebra.

“It’s a hobby, but unlike a lot of other hobbies, it’s a hobby with community service in mind,” said Spargo.

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service has an agreement with Socorro County that when disaster hits, they will go to the county emergency operations center and help man the radios. A lot of hams belong to search and rescue groups, local hobbyists have helped with mock disaster exercises by helping the ambulance radio and law enforcement radio talk to the hospital, and they help out with the annual Striders and Riders triathlon. Ham radio operators communicate when the racecourse is clear and are ready to broadcast if there’s an emergency on the course.

“It turns out there are over 100 ham radio operators here in Socorro,” said Spargo. “It’s one of the highest densities of any community in the country and it’s made up of people from the VLA, from Tech, from White Sands Missile Range and other organizations in town. There’s just a lot of hams around here.”

Roughly 15 to 20 of those ham radio operators have gotten their licenses through the afterschool program.