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St. Clair News-Aegis, Pell City, Ala., Meet your neighbor column
[February 21, 2013]

St. Clair News-Aegis, Pell City, Ala., Meet your neighbor column

PELL CITY, Feb 21, 2013 (St. Clair News-Aegis - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- You could say Ed Tyler is a Renaissance man of retirement, as he makes the most of his time after working many years in communications.

Some of his hobbies include photography, making pens from wood from the historic Avondale Mills building, writing opinion pieces for this publication acradio. The latter pasttime recently earned him a spot on the National Association for Amateur Radio Puablic Relations Committee, where he will work to bring awareness to the vital role HAM radio plays in our neighborhoods and around the world.

He first became involved in amateur radio after Sputnik was launched when he was a young teen. An engineer and amateur radio operator who lived not far from Tyler's family in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky built a piece of equipment very quickly and rebroadcasted on WHS the "beep-beep-beep" the Russian satellite transmitted.

He was out of amateur radio until his early 60s when he had retired. He has become involved in amateur radio because he enjoys the technology and meeting the people mixed up with the technology and also because the resources were finally available for him to get into the hobby.

The fact that that pursuing the hobby wasn't available to him at an earlier age is one of the reasons he has focused on and tried to achieve the availability of local resources for youth to get involved in it.

Currently he is active in helping to gain space in the old Pell City armory for a place that multiple youth groups in the high school, the Civil Air Patrol and the Boy Scouts can get together and have the resources they need to pursue amateur radio. "Not just the radios and the antennas and the technology part of the resource, but to also have access to the intellectual resources of the people they need to assist them and have a place that's accessible and to get together as needed to learn about amateur radio and practice amateur radio. Part of that is that the youth would have access to the resources without having to purchase it on their own." In his role as a public information coordinator, Tyler will be charged with directing and coordinating the different HAM radio clubs throughout the state and recruit other amateur radio operators to be public relations and information officers.

He said there are two or three things involved in amateur radio today that most often fly under the communities' scope: making use of the technology for use in emergencies and educating not only the community, but youth about the importance of amateur radio communication and the science behind it.

"The first of which is--and probably the most critical from an amateur radio community's perspective--a tremendous upsurge in the growth and use of wireless technology. And that wireless technology is making each bit of radio spectrum more and more valuable," Tyler said. "The amateur radio community has a decent chunk of the radio spectrum we're still trying to protect. One of the ways to do that is to convey to the community on what value the amateur radio does to make use of that spectrum and one of the big uses we have of that spectrum is the way we use it when we have a disaster.

He talked about how the amateur radio community played a part in tracking and relaying information during and after the April 27, 2011 storms. "They saved some people's lives during that time period prior to when the tornados struck. Afterwards they provided some of the first responses to the secondary activities such as shelters--we had operators at the shelters and keeping track of what they needed--and a lot of other general survey work that was done." He said getting people in place after a major storm is something HAM radio operators play a vital role in; but because of the nature of their work in disasters, it can be difficult to prepare for tragedy on a large scale.

"There's some things that rightfully need to be done but on some things--like the scale of the April 27 tornados--we were not geared up to do things that needed to be performed, so you had to priorities what needed to be done." He said that Amateur Radio Emergency Service members in Alabama did just that in the aftermath of that day.

"We saw this throughout the state that some of the senior leadership in the ARES groups got involved not in running the group but in solving the problem on event at a time. One of the things that we normally assume is that the radio facilities are going to be in place after the disaster goes through. But in the case of Tuscaloosa it wiped out everything. It got the emergency management facilities, it got the police and fire facilities it got the cell phone facilities and it got the amateur radio facilities. Everybody was out there in the same boat trying to communicate with each other.

"At the same time that happened we had people whose homes were destroyed who were in the senior leadership. Their equipment was in their homes, yes; but we're just as human as everyone else. The minute our homes or our families are in peril, we're not interested in amateur radio. To put it another way, we became part of the problem that needed to be solved and not the solution." All kinds of hubs were set up for the state's ARES groups after the April 27 storms hit, from trailers that had emergency equipment, to vehicles with radios and even walkie talkies were put in to place to solve the ARES communication problems. The ARES groups then could relay information to emergency management agencies.

"The ARES group that we have is probably one of the most under-recognized, underappreciated groups in the area," Tyler says. "They use their own time, their own equipment to practice and train to do these things and they responded during that emergency in an exemplary manner. I don't think they have ever received the public recognition they deserve." At a time period when education budgets are stressed and the need for math and science are strong, Tyler says HAM radio is a great way for youth to gain firsthand knowledge on those topics. "Amateur radio offers a tremendous vehicle way to do that and we have a very viable amateur radio programs in the county at both Pell City High School and St. Clair County High School." He said the merging of computer technology and amateur radio technology recently came together when high school students sent up a balloon that could be tracked on its journey to 93,000 feet. "Amateur radio is an absolutely wide open opportunity. There's no age limit on it. If you can pass the test, you're equal to anyone else who has passed that same test." He said another nice thing about amateur radio is it gives people with mobility, communication or visual limitations the access to a new mode that will let them communicate and "it really opens up a world to them. It's another way to open up a door to somebody to let them communicate and learn about the things they are interested in." One form of communication that is still used in amateur radio is Morse code, what Tyler said is the one communications code that works in all conditions. While it has been eliminated as a license requirement for HAM operators, he said folks are compelled and encouraged to use it, especially if they have to reach distant and weak locations around the world.

Tyler said he passed his Morse code test at 65, which "isn't the age one might want to learn it. But I've talked to locations in Antarctica and I've talked to locations in the western part of Australia [using Morse code], which is about as close to the other side of the world from here as you're going to get." But Tyler is more than an amateur radio operator, he also writes opinion pieces for the News-Aegis.

Sharing knowledge and information goes all the way back to high school for Tyler. He was encouraged to take part in public speaking in the 4H Club and went to state and tied for first place twice, but lost the coin toss twice. "So, I was lucky, but not lucky enough. I have always felt that there were a lot of people who complained and whined about things but they never took the time to think their problems through to com up with a solution. I'm of the opinion that if we have a problem with something, we shouldn't try to just share our problems, we should think the problem through to come up with some level of solution that we can share. A lot of the things we see happen in society today, we see people act on their emotions and they don't put a lot of thought process into their reasoning. I've got a real little driver in me that says if you think and research things. So when I come up with something I think I want to write and share, I write and share it. That's overcome a few problems on my part. In college, I think at one point I was on the career path to flunking freshman English. Over the years, the problems I incurred in getting through freshman composition and using better tools--such as computers--to overcome the writing part of it. But the other part is at the same time you sharpen your writing process up, you've got to sharpen up your research skills and your logic skills to come up with something that's truly worth someone else's time to read." He also enjoys working in his woodshop. He has become known in recent years for his making of pens of historical significance.

He got a lathe about six years ago and acquired about a truck bed load of wood from the Avondale Mills property in Pell City while it was being taken apart.

He has been quietly making pens from that flooring since then, many of which are given away through the Rotary Club of Pell City, of which Tyler is a member. They are also available for purchase.

"I try to sell just enough to make up for what I give away through the Rotary Club. It's not a money making venture, it's a keep-cost venture." Tyler has been taking photographs for many years and has taken up areal photography in recent years. He's had a lot of opportunity to photograph many things in the state including the rivers throughout Alabama for the Environmental Protection Agency, which anted to document sources of pollution.

Since that time he has photographed the growth of industrial sites in the area from an areal perspective. "It doesn't keep me really busy, but I enjoy what I do there. It's a pleasant change in pace from the other things I am involved in." Ed Tyler lives in Pell City with his wife Terry.

To get in touch with him, you may email: ___ (c)2013 the St. Clair News-Aegis (Pell City, Ala.) Visit the St. Clair News-Aegis (Pell City, Ala.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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