Johnny Shepherd sits at his ham radio station in his home. The computer program he uses allows him to have a permanent landline to Henderson, Nev. where he can speak with his latest frequency friend or any other ham radio enthusiast, regardless of where they live. Throughout the United States, France, Germany and England, Shepherd can connect to anyone through over 5,000 stations.
Communication is key. It's essential for Shepherd, who deems his ham radio the last line of communication in cases of extreme emergencies. If an disaster emergency where landlines, the Internet or cell phone towers are destroyed, ham radio operators have the solution.
As a part of the Mesa Verde Area Amateur Radio Club, or simpler put, the Cortez Radio Club, Shepherd is in the stages of creating a service tool that will help to effectively communicate with other ham operators. They can then pass on important information to area residents.
"I am experimenting with a HS-MM mesh network (high speed-multi media) to make an emergency network if there is ever a large disaster and the Internet goes down," Shepherd says.
The HS-MM mesh network will consist of wireless routers that will have their program software removed and replaced with rewritten operating software. Shepherd will then place these routers in converter boxes around Cortez so in case of an emergency, he can communicate with other ham operators. This network will also allow the radio operators to pass on information and to connect to other computers within its network. Small Internet-based tasks such as email, texting and picture or video sharing, are a few things Shepherd is trying to perfect in his project.
Shepherd may be onto something.
The group of ham radio operators are licensed to utilize the airwaves to provide emergency communication assistance when needed. They have never been called upon to serve the Cortez area but Shepherd says they helped aid in one of the Durango fires that occurred last year. But it's not just about preparation.
There are many aspects to this group's existence. Community service is one, and it may be more important to one member than it is to another. For Shepherd, being a ham radio operator is not only a hobby, but a hobby he can put to good use one day.
Shepherd has been a ham radio operator since 1982 and a Citizens Band, or CB operator before that.
"A lot of ham operators start as CBers," Shepherd says. "But I got tired of the noise and the impoliteness in CB radio. Hams are a different type of radio operator. There's a rulebook we have to follow."
When the club was conceived in 2000, Shepherd was one of the founding members. He was president of the club for six years before passing the torch. He took a small hiatus, but he's ready to take the reins once again.
Ham radio is Shepherd's gateway to the world. He has two operating stations in his home. The one most used is upstairs and is more computer based, but it is connected to the station directly downstairs, where a slew of radios are strategically stacked on his desk, encompassing a computer monitor.
"Everything has changed (in ham radio)," Shepherd says. "Equipment is smoother, nicer and more sophisticated. And of course prices have gone up too."
Shepherd is a computer whiz. He builds his own radios, repeaters and modifies routers. He also does computer repairs. Ham radio enthusiasts are now communicating with one another via online software. Programs such as Echolink, which runs on the repeater system and works like a landline, or remote hams, a website that allows other ham operators to come in and listen on Shepherd's radio, are producing new opportunities for the club.
Each program is downloadable online for any licensed ham radio operator. The new softwares and programs catered to hams have become increasingly abundant. Shepherd says ham radio is not dead, although some would argue the fact. He knows different.
"There are teenagers on these radios and even younger kids who are seven, eight, nine," Shepherd says in amazement. "If they can pass the test, and they know how to operate it, they can get licensed. There's no age requirement."
Shepherd is glad amateur radio is more popular than it seems. It's an unforeseen hobby these days. People don't realize the extent a ham radio can be used.
Amateur radio is a widespread way to link oneself with someone a world away. In fact, it is probably the largest reason behind an operator. Shepherd has met people from all over the world. He says there isn't one person he has met who wasn't interesting.
The club shares their encounters, projects and knowledge of radio once every month. The social aspect of the group is just as important as the reason they are there. The radio.
But for Shepherd, the challenge of building equipment and fine tuning its inner workings is just as thrilling.
"A radio is much like a computer," he says. "It's a transistor, a capacitator, it does all these other things a computer can do. They are a nice match for each other."
Shepherd continues work on his mesh network project. He excitedly talks it over, throwing around radio lingo and computer jargon, way too advanced for any normal person to comprehend. This man who is all about computers, sounds like he could be one.