Fingers do the talking…
Published 3:19 am Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Story and photos by Kerry Whipple Bean
Scott Hillman tapped out a rhythm with his hands, a low-tech text message system that is becoming a lost art.
Hillman, a member of the Brewton Amateur Radio Union, needs just a little bit of sunshine, a homemade radio and his skill with Morse code to talk to people far beyond Brewton.
Using the solar-powered radio and Morse code - the system of dots and dashes developed in the 1830s for the telegraph - Hillman and Miller can communicate outside Brewton in any emergency.
But usually they do it just for fun.
Miller and Hillman sat Saturday beneath a bright umbrella at the city park, taking part in the annual amateur radio Field Day.
The event links amateur radio operators around the country and around the globe in an event designed to practice for communications needs during disasters.
Hillman, who can tap out 25 words a minute, began using Morse code about 30 years ago, when he operated “traffic nets” - meetings among radio operators - to help servicemen overseas communicate with their families.
Two and a half years later, Hillman got back into radio communications as a hobby.
Meanwhile, technology had left Morse code and CW - continuous wave operators - behind, with the soaring popularity of cell phones and the Internet.
In fact, Miller said, the military recently abandoned using CW for ship-to-shore communication.
Still, with Morse code abbreviations known the world over, CW operators can communicate with anyone - no matter the language.
And although cell phones, e-mail and other forms of communication may be more technologically advanced, emergency situations spotlight the need for radio operators like Hillman and Miller.
When Hurricane Ivan slammed Brewton in 2004, the amateur radio club's repeater - the tower that helps relay signals between radio operators - stayed in operation throughout the storm. And the club members helped a visiting Baptist volunteer group communicate among members who were doing different tasks throughout the community.
That's because the sense of community among radio operators across the country can help the Brewton community in times of need, Hillman said.