The University of Kentucky Amateur Radio Club: Dead or Hiding?, Tim Fisher

Not too long ago, the University of Kentucky had a club that not too many other Universities/Colleges could boast about; the University of Kentucky Amateur Radio Club. The closest post-secondary institution, geographically, that has a similar club is Murray State University, which is home to the Murray State University Amateur Radio Club. This is certainly something to be proud about – having the resources, knowledge, and federal approval of operating such a club. Each person, club, group, etc. that wishes to use such a radio station has to pay to take a test (indifferent of passing), and if you pass the test, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) will issue you an Amateur Radio License, which grants you special permissions and operating regulations for radios shared by no others.

[FCC Logo]

The logo of the Federal Communications Commission, the governing body of all radio transmissions of any kind in the United States of America

The club was previously very active, and can be traced through their callsign or other details about them all over the internet. In the recent years, however, the club seems to have disappeared. Since the likelihood that all the remaining active members graduated last year is very low, I want to know why the club has been abandoned. It just doesn’t seem natural that anyone, especially a university such as UK would allow the amount of equipment that this club controlled to suddenly have no use to anyone.
(Especially when you take into account the fact that this equipment is not cheap!) Before I dive into the club’s history and attempt to find this, I’d like to explain some concepts and terms that otherwise would be foreign and confusing to you.

The first concept I feel I need to discuss is the amount of material one has to study for this federal exam, not to mention that it is a straight-cut pass/fail exam and is highly overwhelming. To get a group license, such as the University of Kentucky and Murray State University have, takes much stricter requirements. The second concept of amateur radio clubs such as this one that I feel I should explain, and possibly the biggest extra requirement, is that a single person is entrusted (or as the FCC defines it ‘responsible’) with the station both legally and professionally. Anyone wishing to use the station needs the approval of this person, usually called the ‘trustee’. Furthermore, that person is legally responsible to communicate with the FCC to make sure that all laws and regulations are being followed in good practice. For the UK Amateur Radio Club, this seems to be a big problem that has hit them recently.

The FCC have a database called the ULS (Universal Licensing System), which keeps records organized and publicly available to everyone, so that it can quickly and easily be verified that someone does actually hold the radio license they claim to. This includes Amateur, Commercial, Personal, Family usage, and many other types of radio licenses. For example, if you visit the ULS and look up my callsign, or my name over the air (my callsign is ‘K2TRF’), you will be presented with a page that tells you everything about my license, from the fact that it is an amateur radio license of the General Class, to the fact that I paid extra money to select my own callsign (called ‘vanity callsigns’). This page will even tell you what my original callsign was, which the FCC assigned to me the moment my exam was marked as passing and I was granted my Technician Level license.

According to the FCC’s ULS , the official trustee of this radio station is Gene Yates, who used to teach in the College of Engineering here at the University of Kentucky. (“Amateur License – W4JP – Univ of Kentucky Amateur Radio Club“) The reason this is a problem is that he has not taught on campus in well over twenty years. This is a problem because while Mr. Yates is still the trustee, he is legally responsible for the maintenance, operation, and contacts of the station. He is also responsible for the communications between the club and the FCC. Not only is this bad practice, but there is a bigger legal problem behind this; the FCC imposes a very sharp fine on anyone that improperly holds a trustee position for more than temporary purposes, such as handing over the trustee title to someone who can assume responsibility. I believe that the lack of activity in the club has slowed the transition of the trustee title, as no one in Mr. Yates’ position should hold on to it.

Something that has me puzzled is the existence of the UK Amateur Radio Club website (“University of Kentucky|SWEB”); that is it exists simply to say that it does not. If you try to go to a random directory under the student organizations of UK, you will be presented with a page, usually from your internet browser, to say that the page could not be found. In the case of the UK Amateur Radio Club site, however, there exists a page that serves the same purpose, but it looks as if someone just took the entire site and replaced it with that one page saying that the page doesn’t exist. The simplest reasoning I can think of for this is that the contents were deleted due to inactivity, which wouldn’t be uncommon at all. What is uncommon is that a page was left behind where nothing should have been.

The UK Amateur Radio Club needed a website simply to tell people about them, as most of the members were engineers (and we all know how unsocial engineers are). The website provided a way for the majority of people interested in the club to find out more about it, and it was something that I was deeply disappointed to find gone like that. I cannot find duplicates of the website in popular services such as the Wayback Machine or the Google Archives, but this is not surprising, as the website was located on a university server, and those are not often crawled by such services.

[Anderson Hall]

Anderson Hall, sometimes referred to as Anderson Tower; the home of the UK Amateur Radio Club and the UK Space Systems Laboratory.

The address for the club that is all over the internet is 453 in Anderson Hall. What may have once been Mr. Yates’ office is no longer there; the offices in 453 Anderson Hall belong to other professors now. Strangely enough, the actual amateur radio station, W4JP, is located exactly one floor above at 553 Anderson Hall. I believe this to be merely a coincidence, but that does not necessarily mean that it could not be for another reason. It could have been a way for them to easily run wires into the station for the equipment that remains up there. The closest person to a manager/trustee for the station that I was able to find was Dr. Bill Smith, whose office is located at 467 Anderson Hall. I assume that since Mr. Yates has left, Dr. Smith simply took over running the station with whatever students are interested in it at the given time.

Unfortunately, many if not most college ham radio clubs are in similar situations. Many people simply choose to let their license expire or never get it at all since it is so expensive to take the test and hope that you have passed. Radios are also a big problem; while it is true you can build your own radio and it will work, it will almost never work well and if it can tune at all the range is very limited. It is much simpler to buy the equipment, but with less and less colleges funding these programs, and the only people who would think to fund it are students who are taking out loans simply to pay for their classes, many of these kinds of clubs simply wither away unless someone finds it and attempts to start it back up, as I am doing.

With the UK Amateur Radio Club in particular, it seems that whatever logs were kept on day-to-day activities involving the use of their equipment are either in the station in Anderson Hall (Which is, of course locked so I will have to be let in by someone who has access if I want to see the inside of it) or with Dr. Smith or Mr. Yates. I hope they are either in the station or with Dr. Smith, because it would be very interesting for me to see what the last contact was. Each time two ham radio stations talk to each other, they usually keep a log of it with some basic information about it. Most notably, this log would contain (of the last & newest entry) the date, the time, the person who was using the station, the person who the station spoke to, and other trivial data such as the method used. What this information would tell me is the last person who was actively using the station, and exactly how long ago that was. The reason this would be interesting is because I would have a person to attempt to find, in the hopes that they would be willing to take part in an interview so that I could find out more about the club. If I am not able to find paper logs of the various activities the club did, I hope to be able to find this information from either Dr. Bill Smith or some former members of the club, hopefully even both, as I’m sure Dr. Smith has a different point of view of the club than the students that were a part of it. I was extremely lucky, and was able to interview Dr. Bill Smith about this topic for my paper.

[Dr. Bill Smith]

Dr. Bill Smith, the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Electrical Engineering.

Sometime around November 11th, 2011, Dr. Bill Smith graciously sat down with me to answer some of my questions about the UK Amateur Radio Club, as I was unable to find out a majority of exactly what had happened to the club (“Smith”). Previously, I believed that the club had disintegrated or disbanded, either for lack of members or money. Dr. Smith created a turning point in the direction of my examination; he told me the club technically still existed. Apparently what happened was the UK Amateur Radio Club and the SSL (Space Systems Laboratory) groups on campus decided that they could both do what they were already doing much more efficiently by teaming up. This would be beneficial to both groups as they could accomplish all their tasks much more quickly than they could separately (there is something to be said about the power of numbers in the fields these two clubs were operating in).


What KySat-1 looked like shortly before it was given to NASA to be put onboard the Glory Satellite Mission Rocket.

The two groups merged, and kept both names, but acted mostly under the Space Systems Laboratory. Their biggest project in the past couple of years has been their KySat-1 Cube sat. According to the UK Space Systems Laboratory website, a cube sat is “a nanosatellite standard which is used for missions involving educational outreach, component testing, and space research.” They also say that “the motivation for CubeSats is to standardize the dimensions and mass along with the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) electronics to help drive down launch costs.” A cube sat has very specific dimensions that have to be maintained above all else so that every group submitting one can have theirs loaded onto the space shuttle. The UK SSL website defines these sizes by saying that “a One-Unit (1U) CubeSat must have external dimensions of no greater than 1 liter (approx. a 4” cube) and a mass of no greater than 1 Kg (2.2 lbs). Multiple CubeSats can be stacked upon one another to create 2U, and 3U satellites of greater volume.”

They have made very good progress with the development of these CubeSats, and got to see their KySat-1 scheduled to be launched on March 4 at 2:09:43 PST (5:09:43 EST) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Unfortunately, the CubeSat, along with others submitted from other groups failed to make it out of the atmosphere due to a technical failure that required the shuttle to be re-grounded shortly after takeoff. Details of the failure can be found in a press release by NASA on their website.

Since then, the SSL and the UKARC have continued working on their projects such as this with much more success. About a month ago they launched a small weather balloon simply to fill in some free time they had. Unfortunately I was not able to personally attend the event, but I was able to use my ham radio to follow what they were doing and hear all the data the weather balloon was sending back to the ground station. The club has plans to continue refining their KySat-1 CubeSat until they get another chance to send it up to the International Space Station, when they will resubmit it, hopefully with better luck then they previously had. Until then, they are doing many various projects such as the weather balloon to keep their skills sharp and sometimes to simply pass the time on a lazy weekend.

[SSL Students]

SSL Students setting up equipment to track a Near-Space Balloon Launch.

Often they will send these near-space balloons up with a camera attached to them, so that they can take pictures on their journey. Not only does this help with tracking the balloon and finding it after it lands, but they images often look very cool, since most of them are taken extremely high up in the atmosphere! A lot of these pictures can be found on the Space Systems Laboratory website, but one of my favorite ones is the one posted below here. This picture was taken about a month ago, when the SSL sent up a balloon they named “Hamster-3D”. The reason they named it this is because it was equipped, on top of the standard equipment, with a brand-new 3D camera. Obviously, these pictures are not displayed here in 3D, as they wouldn’t quite work. Still, the 2D versions of these pictures are amazing.

[Hamster 3D]

This is my favorite picture that was taken by the Hamster 3D near-space balloon about a month ago.

This project was very beneficial to me personally. It gave me an opportunity to I found out what happened to the club, why they appear to be dead on the surface, and what they are doing now that requires them to maintain this image, so that the two clubs can work together using both of their experiences and equipment to help each other reach their common goals. I will be continuing to follow this group for a little while and might possibly join them sometime soon. Unfortunately, I now have to choose which of these groups to join on paper!

by Tim Fisher, for WRD110, taught by Eric Casero.


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