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Sisters among youngest ham radio operators in Pa.

May 21, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- They say the average ham radio operator is a 59-year-old man.

A quick inventory of the Cumberland Valley Amateur Radio Club and that assessment appears spot on.

But look again.

In the corner, with their feet barely reaching the floor, are two young girls who recently have defied the stereotype by becoming two of the youngest licensed "hams" in the state of Pennsylvania.

On international air space, they are KB3SSN and KB3SSM. In person, they are 7-year-old Veronica Latham and 8-year-old Victoria Latham of Shippensburg, Pa.

The girls officially have been on the air for a few weeks, but their parents, both licensed operators, have made radio a part of the girls' lives since birth.

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Their father, Shannon Latham, or W3SML, took up the hobby of talking on the radio when he was 13.

"My grandfather was a Signal Corps radio operator in World War II and my father always dreamed of getting his amateur radio license," he said. "One day, I discovered his old books and equipment, and I guess you could say I caught the bug."

Latham graciously has passed the bug around to his wife Rachel (KB3RNP) and his two daughters, who are proud to be in the minority.

Only about 15 percent of ham radio operators in the U.S. are females, according to the Amateur Radio Relay League.

Becoming a licensed operator is not easy, said D. Daniel McGlothin, or KB3MUN.

Operators must pass a test issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use the air space.

McGlothin said the test consists of 35 questions and can be challenging as it covers both the theory of ham radio operation and the regulations set by the FCC.

"The test was hard," said Veronica, admitting she had to take it twice.

Shannon Latham said he is proud his daughters took up the hobby, so proud he came home every day at lunch for five months to help them study for their license.

Even though they have to leave their radios at home when they go to school, the girls said they are enjoying talking to people across the world and can't wait to participate in the club's many charity events, especially the 24-hour Field Day in late June, when operators set up in a field and practice transmitting messages.

Unlike the worry that clouds the minds of parents as their children surf the Internet, Twittering or chatting on Facebook, Shannon Latham said he is confident his girls are safe when they are on the radio.

"Ham conversations can be monitored by anyone on that frequency," he said. "They are safer getting on the radio than getting on the Internet."

While each ham take up the hobby for a different reason, McGlothin said the hobby still has practical uses.

Ham radios can operate when power is out, satellites are down and cellular signals fade, so emergency personnel often rely on assistance from local hams in times of crisis, he said.

Amateur radio also cuts across the spectrum of society, Shannon Latham said.

"It is not just for rich men," he said. "It is for people of any economic standing, gender, as you can see by my girls, or race. On the air, we are not different. We are just people."

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