Fingers do the talking...
Story and photos by Kerry Whipple Bean
Scott Hillman tapped out a rhythm with his hands, a low-tech text message system that is becoming a
Hillman, a member of the Brewton Amateur Radio Union, needs just a little bit of sunshine, a homemade
radio and his skill with Morse code to talk to people far beyond Brewton.
“This is a homemade station. The slang for it is ‘homebrew,'” said his friend and
fellow club member Johnny Miller, pointing out the complex system of wires built into a small Whitman's Sampler tin.
Using the solar-powered radio and Morse code - the system of dots and dashes developed in the 1830s
for the telegraph - Hillman and Miller can communicate outside Brewton in any emergency.
But usually they do it just for fun.
“You talk with your fingers,” Miller said. “We're just having fun.”
Miller and Hillman sat Saturday beneath a bright umbrella at the city park, taking part in the annual
amateur radio Field Day.
The event links amateur radio operators around the country and around the globe in an event designed
to practice for communications needs during disasters.
Hillman, who can tap out 25 words a minute, began using Morse code about 30 years ago, when he operated
“traffic nets” - meetings among radio operators - to help servicemen overseas communicate with their families.
Two and a half years later, Hillman got back into radio communications as a hobby.
“It's just a passion,” he said.
Meanwhile, technology had left Morse code and CW - continuous wave operators - behind, with the soaring
popularity of cell phones and the Internet.
In fact, Miller said, the military recently abandoned using CW for ship-to-shore communication.
“Technology has passed CW, but it's still fun,” Hillman said.
Still, with Morse code abbreviations known the world over, CW operators can communicate with anyone
- no matter the language.
And although cell phones, e-mail and other forms of communication may be more technologically advanced,
emergency situations spotlight the need for radio operators like Hillman and Miller.
When Hurricane Ivan slammed Brewton in 2004, the amateur radio club's repeater - the tower that helps
relay signals between radio operators - stayed in operation throughout the storm. And the club members helped a visiting Baptist
volunteer group communicate among members who were doing different tasks throughout the community.
That's because the sense of community among radio operators across the country can help the Brewton
community in times of need, Hillman said.
“All we've got to do is put a call out, and people come in,” he said.