Vilas County Amateur Radio Club expands coverage via Ministry tower Submitted: 01/04/2016
EAGLE RIVER - You shouldn't call Paul Clay pessimistic.  Instead, just call him a potential problem solver.

"We have to assume the worst [in the event of a natural disaster]," Clay told Newswatch 12 Monday afternoon. "You've lost your power grid, your cell phones don't work anymore, you may have lost some cell towers or county communications towers."

The retired Watersmeet native spends much of his time hoping a disaster doesn't happen. But he's helping Vilas County prepare for one—all from the cab of his truck.

"We can do things when everything else fails," Clay said.

Clay learned Morse code in the U.S. Navy and always loved radio communications, but he noticed Vilas county didn't have amateur radio coverage.

So Clay and two others started the Vilas County amateur radio club—while in his truck and on the phone—in May 2015.  It forms a network allowing point-to-point radio communication during large-scale activities like races, events, and emergencies.

"It's not one person; it's everybody in the club that makes the club stronger, and the more hams we have, the more resources we have in case there's an issue that needs to be dealt with," Clay said.

The club grew to more than 60 members in about six months. But Clay faced a big challenge: the lack of a high point where the club could place a repeater.  Leave it to a problem solver to discover a solution.

"It's good for us, but it's really primarily good for our community," said Ministry Health Care Patient Care Services Manager Mark Dascalos.

Clay approached Ministry last summer, asking if the club could latch on to Ministry Eagle River Memorial Hospital's tower.  The hospital agreed, offering its tower free of charge.

"The inside of our communications center here, we have a spot for them so that they can set up their equipment there, use the tower, use their repeater then to help us through our communication needs," Dascalos said.  Ministry hopes the amateur club can help connect to ambulances and other medical providers in the event of a major emergency.

The club installed its antenna, which boosted ham radio coverage to about 40 percent of Vilas County, just before winter hit.

"Really, it benefits our patients, it benefits our consumers, and it benefits our citizens," Dascalos said.

But there's more coverage to provide, which is a problem Clay intends to fix.

"We are a resource that's available that doesn't cost the community anything, so if there's a problem, we're here and we're anxious to help," Clay said.

The club president's goal is to attract more members, especially younger ones.  Clay will hold a free two-day workshop for anyone interested in learning more about amateur radio operations.  The workshop is Saturday and Sunday, January 16 and 17 at the Vilas County Business Incubator.

For more information, contact Clay at pclay@nnex.net

Story By: Lane Kimble

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