From Social Activity to Lifeline: Thermal Belt Amateur Radio Club

Published 1:32 pm Thursday, February 23, 2023

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Thermal Belt Amateur Radio Club trains for emergency preparedness


FOOTHILLS–The earthquakes in Turkey and Syria are reminders of how natural disasters can knock out critical communication infrastructure. That’s where amateur radio, also known as ham radio, can be a critical lifeline to help guide emergency responders and inform victims. It’s also why the local Thermal Belt Amateur Radio Club trains for such events. 

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“We are able to relay valuable information from one community to another locally or worldwide,” says club president Chad Hightower, who adds that the club has trained weekly for emergencies for nearly two years. “The club contributed to relaying critical weather information last year during the winter storm.”


The club has 34 members located across the upstate of South Carolina and western North Carolina. Members use VHF and UHF base station radios with a range of up to 60 miles. They also have handheld units that are like walkie-talkies and high-frequency radios that can communicate worldwide, depending on solar conditions, time of day and other factors.  


Amateur radio operators formed the club in 1974 as the Polk County Amateur Radio Club as a social activity that Hightower calls that era’s Facebook for the club’s members. Over time the club’s primary mission turned to emergency preparedness with members training in different methods of emergency communication.


“When traditional communications fail in the event of a disaster ham radio still functions,” says Hightower, who adds that despite the club’s emergency preparedness mission it is still a social organization. 


“Club members enjoy a lifelong friendship with fellow ham radio operators and they also have an opportunity to give back to their community,” says Hightower, noting that the club offers monthly training opportunities.


Anyone interested in joining can contact the club at You need to have an FCC license to operate the radios but not to be a member.