Surfing the waves: A middle schooler receives her license to communicate, help using amateur radio

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A seventh-grader recently became one of the estimated 500 children in Alabama under the age of 18 to earn an amateur radio operator license. The certification, required by the Federal Communications Commission, allows users to communicate over radio frequencies known as &8220;amateur bands.&8221;

Ariel Hill, from Montevallo, is now known to those in the amateur, or ham, radio world by the call sign Ki4VLS. Hill decided to try for the certification after years of watching her mother and stepfather enjoy the hobby.

&8220;They have this microphone, and they use their call signs to talk back and forth,&8221; she said. &8220;I just got interested.&8221;

To achieve the technician class license, Hill took a test of 35 multiple-choice questions that drew from a bank of 300. Material covered includes FCC rules, operating frequencies and the phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie).

Knowledge of Morse code is no longer required for the first level of certification, but Hill&8217;s stepfather Les Hunter said the exam remains tough.

&8220;Her being 12, it&8217;s quite an accomplishment. It&8217;s a hard test,&8221; said Hunter, who earned his first certification in 1981.

Hill spent about an hour a day for three weeks studying for the test and enjoyed a slight head start. &8220;I&8217;ve lived around it since I was 6.&8221;

One of the most difficult things, Hill said, was learning about the frequencies, which involve lots of numbers and math, a subject she admitted is not her favorite.

Still, she studied hard, and, now with her license, the diligence seems worth it. &8220;You get to talk [to people] all over the world in different places,&8221; she said. As an amateur radio operator, she can also help during natural disasters&8212;her stepfather volunteered during Hurricane Katrina.

&8220;It&8217;s something that we desperately need, and we hope Ariel will set an example for other children,&8221; said Hunter, who cried when his stepdaughter passed.

Hill hasn&8217;t helped with any disasters or rescues yet, but hopes to volunteer in the future. &8220;When people are suffering, it&8217;s sad, and you get to help,&8221; she said.

Hill&8217;s stepfather knows she&8217;ll be ready, too. &8220;She&8217;s a natural at it,&8221; he said. &8220;The kid&8217;s a natural.&8221;