The Dade County Amateur Radio Emergency Service will hold a radio field day at Cloudland Canyon State Park starting at noon Saturday. The public event continues around the clock through Sunday. The park is off Georgia Highway 136 on Lookout Mountain between Trenton and LaFayette. Look for signs near the park entrance leading to the field day area.
TRENTON, Ga. - Static crackled over the airwaves atop the Dade County, Ga., slice of Sand Mountain on Wednesday when 11-year-old Sierra Saylors reached out to the world.
"CQ-10, CQ-10, this is kilo, kilo, four, Romeo, Juliet, whiskey on 10 meters," her voice piped through the handheld microphone on her father's ham radio.
That's Sierra's Federal Communications Commission-issued call sign, "KK4RJW," which identifies her to other amateur radio operators, or "hams," anywhere on the planet.
Parents David and Teresa Saylors and fellow Dade County Amateur Radio Emergency Service member Richard Beldyk believe Sierra is one of the youngest hams in Northwest Georgia.
Sierra got her technician's license on May 30, her 11th birthday and the same day she made her first contact with another operator more than 1,700 miles away.
"I talked to San Diego, Calif., and I was in Decatur, Ala.," she said of using her father's mobile unit while on a birthday camping trip. Hams mail each other "QSL cards" to confirm contacts, and her father has cards from all over the world.
Sierra is still waiting for some of her first cards, and she hopes to communicate with hams in Africa, Germany and Russia, she said.
A technician's license is the first of three license classes a radio operator can obtain from the FCC, according to the American Radio Relay League website. The higher the class of license, the more frequencies the license holder can use.
Sierra passed a 35-question written test on radio theory, regulations and operating practices that allows her to use frequencies above 30 megahertz and some short-wave frequencies.
The next step is a general license, which allows some privileges on all amateur radio bands and opens the door to worldwide communications, and the third is the amateur extra license, which gives the holder all available privileges on all bands, according to the league.
But in an age of smartphones, Twitter and Facebook, what attracts a grade-schooler to ham radio?
"With a cellphone, you have to rely on something else to get your signal out," she said. "Here, you just set up your own and you can be independent."
Sierra's parents, both licensed operators, note that Sierra now is able to participate in amateur radio events and activities like this weekend's radio field day at nearby Cloudland Canyon State Park.
Sierra hopes the collection of hams and their equipment will help her make new friends across the nation and the world.
Beldyk points out to other hams that when they hear Sierra's young voice on the air, she's wearing "a big, hopeful smile."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.