In a room tucked under Neyland Stadium, the UT Amateur Radio Club reaches over 200 countries.
Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, involves the use of the radio frequency spectrum for non-commercial purposes, like exchanging messages, private recreation and radio sport. The term “amateur” is used mainly to distinguish the hobby from private broadcasting and public safety broadcasting.
Members of the Amateur Radio Club meet weekly in East Stadium Hall, where they have an antenna and a radio system to broadcast from UT campus.
The UT Amateur Radio Club started in 1947 in response to a rise in public interest in satellite and radio following the end of World War II.
Bobbie Williams, adviser and trustee of the UT Amateur Radio Club, said that after World War II, extra radio equipment began to be donated to facilities for research and education on improving satellite signals.
“At the end of the war, there was a lot of excess radio equipment, and there was a surge of amateur radio interest,” Williams said. “There has been a rise and fall in attendance since, but the information available now is outstanding.”
The group participates in various events and activities related to ham radios, such as hidden transmitter hunts — “foxhunts” — and emergency communications.
Among these activities, members also compete in an amateur radio contest, hosted by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), in which the competitors' goal is to contact as many stations as possible during the contest period.
Ben Johnson, senior in computer science and president of the club, has led the organization in the competition that happens twice a year in February and October. UT has participated in years past and had two top-25 appearances in 2012 and 2013.
According to Johnson, he has five days to reach as many signals as possible while competing against clubs from the elementary to university level.
For Johnson, his favorite thing that he has done with the Amateur Radio Club was when he worked with the Student Space Technology Association (SSTA) on campus, using their equipment to talk to the U.S. Space Station.
The UT radio club set up their equipment at Hardin Valley Academy, a Knox County high school. The club made contact for about 10 minutes before the station had moved out of reachable signal, which was just enough time for nine students to ask one question each about the astronauts' time in space.
Sara Martin, junior in electrical engineering, was one of the UT radio club members who asked a question to the astronauts.
“Asking the questions to the astronauts was so interesting,” Martin said. “It was a really cool experience. I’m really happy I got to be a part of it.”
More than 150 students from Hardin Valley Academy and a few members of the UT radio club were listening to the live discussion between the astronauts and the students.
Other activities the radio club participates in include ARRL-sponsored event Field Day, where ham radios set up temporary transmitting stations in public places to demonstrate their hobby. The group will also be a part of UT's Engineering Day on Oct. 26.
For last year’s Field Day, the club worked with the police department on top of a UT garage to set up an emergency satellite system. This year, they are setting up a low-earth orbit satellite tracking system for Johnson’s senior project.
As a part of Engineering Day, the radio club will have a satellite set up at the Min H. Kao Building for students to learn about their systems' setups and capabilities.