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Stanardsville ham radio operator performs wellness checks over the airwaves


“All is well.”

“Everything is hunky dory here.”

These were just two of the 13 responses on Friday, May 1, sent to K4FZE during the Greene County Virginia Amateur Radio Club’s Wellness Network (Net).

Club member Bill Steo, 73, of Stanardsville has been reaching out through this network nightly at 7 p.m. since March 15.

The net is held on frequency 145.470, which operates a repeater located on Flattop Mountain in Greene County. The repeater takes the local signal and transmits it about 80-90 miles from its location, Steo said.

Steo, who is the net controller, or person running the group, said it’s a way to check in with other ham radio operators in the region who, like him, are staying home to avoid the virus.

“If somebody needed food or supplies, we’d make sure they got that help,” he said.

The net usually gets between 13-19 check-ins per night, he said, but on April 30 there was an all-time high of 24. Steo has heard from other amateur radio operators from as far away as Fredericksburg, Stanley, Manassas, Ivy and Staunton.

“As net controller I listen for their callsigns and first names, which are recorded on a log sheet, then as the net control operator I ask for their health report,” Steo said. “After each person reports, a request for ‘anyone else wishing to join the net please call now’ is transmitted and so forth.”

An amateur can use a hand-held radio (walkie talkie), a mobile unit in his/her vehicle or a base station radio from home to communicate with the net, he said.

After the last caller has joined the group the net control operator goes down the list one at a time and asks if that person has anything to add for the group until the last person reports.

“When everyone is finished, the control operator collectively clears the repeater by saying, ‘This is net control’ and gives his callsign then closes out the net for the evening,” Steo said. “That opens up the repeater for others.”

Steo learned on April 30 that a club in Fair Lawn, N.J., was the first to start a wellness net in the country. That club started theirs on March 13.

“We thought we might have been the first, but we sent them an email congratulating them,” Steo said. “This is the first time we’ve done a wellness net. The club will operate the net until the governor of Virginia gives the all clear order for normal travels to resume.”

Steo has participated in other educational nets.

“So many people from all walks of life are willing to share their knowledge,” he said. “Luckily for me the universal language for amateur radio is English.”

The club usually meets the first Thursday of the month at Blue Ridge Café, but with the stay-at-home orders they haven’t been able to meet in months. Members use this type of communication to keep the club going.

Anyone interested in becoming a member of the Greene County Virginia Amateur Radio Club can mail a letter to the club at P.O. Box 463, Ruckersville VA 22968 until regular meetings can resume.


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