They’ve got your back(up communication): Clovis Amateur Radio Pioneers provide public service, prepare for disasters

By Mariya Zheleva

What would happen if disaster struck? No cell phones, no internet, no power.

How would people communicate?

Enter: Clovis Amateur Radio Pioneers, or CARP for short.

The club is ready to provide communication for any emergency situation, with generators, batteries and ham radios always on hand.

However, CARP isn’t solely around to communicate during disaster. Their skills and equipment also come in handy for events like the California Classic’s running and bicycle events and the March of Dimes’ annual March for Babies walk. Ham radio operators communicate from different points on the course during these walks and bicycle events.

“The purpose of the club is to help and to educate not only other amateur radio operators but the public about amateur radio, public service and also emergency communication,” club president Rob Mavis said.

More than 20 years ago, the Clovis club got its start when a group of teenagers wanted to explore amateur radio. Though there was already an amateur radio club in town, it was composed of mostly older men, and these teenagers wanted their own place to experience the world of ham radio.

From then on, CARP has been involved in numerous public service events and has assisted in providing emergency communication as well as provided training for its members and the community.

Amateur radio, otherwise known as ham radio, is a form of communication primarily used in the case of natural disaster. (The ham nickname is said to stem from the first amateur wireless station operated by some amateurs of the Harvard Radio Club, Hyman-Almy-Murray.) It is licensed and regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, which dictates that amateur radio is the backup communication method in case of a disaster.

Those with an amateur radio license, obtainable by passing a 35-question test, are allowed to use amateur radio frequencies, where operators get a lot of what is called radio spectrum. In other words, operators get a lot of frequencies to use freely.

CARP handles communications for local cycling clubs and the Rotary Club among many other organizations and events. “We help them out with their walks, runs bicycle events and provide communications and support,” Mavis said.

“We’ll man people around the course and man people at rest stops so we have a better means of communication in case something does happen, like if we need more supplies or somebody gets hurt,” Mavis said.

Mavis joined the club about 17 years ago, and has held the position of president for about seven years. “A lot of it is public service,” he said. “The public service to me is kind of a big deal.”

CARP has about 50 members.

“Back when the club started, it was a lot of teenagers, and those teenagers have grown up and kind of moved on,” Mavis said. “Amateur radio seems to be kind of an old man’s hobby — at least that’s the view people have of it.”

Although the club attracts more of an older crowd, people of all ages and skill sets are welcome to join. Mavis said all that is required is a complete application and a $20 yearly fee.

“Anyone can join,” Mavis said. “It ranges from knowing nothing about electronics to being electrical engineers that worked for NASA. You know what, you don’t even have to have an amateur radio license.”

Although having a license wouldn’t hurt.

The $20 yearly fee is waived for the first year if one already has a license upon joining.

Among the group’s 50 members is James Majors, who didn’t necessarily have a strong background in amateur radio when he first joined CARP.

“I learned a lot,” Majors said. “Even though I’ve had some experience in communications, I didn’t know amateur radio, and they really did a good job when I came in, in helping me through those things.”

Majors, now a CARP member for about three years, was a linguist in the military and as part of his training he got an associate’s degree in communication and communication equipment.

Once out of the military, he didn’t necessarily want to continue with that field, but that feeling changed about six years ago.

“It’s something that I’ve done in the past, and it’s something I like and I wanted to get involved with people, make new friends and what not,” Majors said. “So I decided to go out and take my test and start meeting people, and I’m glad I did. I’ve got some great guys that I work with.”

Majors said that CARP has its own uniqueness. “I would say that from a club perspective, we’re very active in community events and we’re very active in helping each other,” he said. “And that’s kind of unusual because in a lot of clubs, they get together but they don’t really do anything.

“Rob has done a great job at keeping people moving in a direction where there’s a goal set.”

Majors also added that one of the things he is proudest of as a member of CARP is its effect on the community.

“It’s just that moment where you know that what you’re doing has meaning to the people out there” he said.