W5HAR Club History

In the fall of 1977 Kenneth “Buddy” H. Woods, WD5BXQ, along with Denver Chism, WD5BGP, had the desire to promote their love of amateur radio in the Twin Cities of Helena and West Helena Arkansas by building a 2M repeater. Buddy was a Professional Electrical Engineer employed by E- Systems who was later bought by Raytheon. Buddy along with his friend Denver, an appliance repair specialist with Sears & Roebuck, successfully built a repeater from a VHF Engineering Kit with a homebrew ID controller and Auto-patch designed by Buddy. With a substantial monetary donation from Buddy a set of duplexers were purchased. A frequency pair of 146.670 MHz/146.070 MHz was coordinated with the FCC and ARRL, and the repeater was complete. By the Summer of 1978 a small “repeater shack” was built atop Reservoir Hill in downtown Helena and the repeater was “on the air”. This repeater stayed in operation for nearly 20 years. Design upgrades were implemented, including a tone decoder for the auto-patch, on this repeater through 1982.

By 1979 the Helena amateurs radio operators started to coalesce into a group of like-minded amateur radio operators with interest not only in amateur radio, but also as computer hobbyist centered around the 2-meter repeater. On November 19th 1980 the Helena Amateur Radio Club was official affiliated with the American Radio Relay League, ARRL, and eight (8) members signed on as the Original Charter Members. They were Denver Chism, WD5BGP; Billie Hill, WB5YLI/SK; James K. Holmes, WA5KQX/SK; Leta Hungerland, K5WSS/SK; Lannes Johnson, KC5BZ/SK; Gibson TurleyW5BME Meetings were held in the “Ready Room” of the Arkansas Power and Light Building at 291 Richmond Dr, West Helena, Arkansas. By 1982 interest in meetings started to wane, however the group stayed active on the repeater.

By the mid 1990’s Buddy’s repeater needed replacing. With repeater parts funded by Lannes Johnson, NJ5H, and Wayne Bryan N5JLJ, a self-taught and talented electronic enthusiast, who owned a local mobile radio shop built the 146.685- MHz repeater. At the same time Nicky Jacks, WX5J, a local Motorola Dealer also built a repeater with the frequency of 146.685+ MHz Both repeaters were on the air at the same time and gave an extended foot print to the amateur radio operators on either side of Crawley’s Ridge.

The first 440 repeater was installed on top of Crawley’s Ridge on a 200 ft tower in 1996 on 444.875+ MHz the 440 MHz repeater was a rebuild of a commercial repeater built by Yaesu® Standard. Wayne, N5JLJ, rebuilt this repeater from spare parts of other repeaters that previously suffered lightning strikes. This repeater survived until the Spring of 2019.

On May 8th 1997, the Helena amateur radio group was called into action. A local industry Bartlow Packaging Systems (BPS) suffered an explosion where several West Helena fire fighters and employees lost their lives. There was no shortage of local amateur radio operators to volunteer in assisting the evacuation of the Helena Regional Medical Center patients to Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas in Helena in response to a toxic cloud that threaten the Hospital. Helena amateurs radio operators provide communications for doctors, nurses, and administrators.

By the year 2000 both VHF (146.685 MHz) repeaters were ailing and Joe Porter, KK5JP (then N5KGA), purchased the first fully synthesized, BRAND NEW in the box Kenwood® Repeater. A new home for the repeater was needed. The Helena Regional Medical Center agreed to allow Joe, KK5JP, access to the repeater site on the hospital property and the antenna stood proudly above the Delta at 200 feet. Unfortunately, in the Spring of 2019, water invaded the radio shack below the hospital tower and the Kenwood® radio that served our ham community for nearly 10 years was no longer.

In February of 2009 a new amateur radio operator moved to the Twin Cities and ignited a slow burn that would have an everlasting impact on our amateur radio community. Within the first few months upon arriving in Helena, Robert “Bob” White, AI4GI, the newly named Director of Maintenance for Helena Regional Medical Center, invited all the local amateur radio operators to a meeting in the Board Room of the Helena Regional Medical Center. With resistance to form an official club the participants agreed they would meet on the third Thursday of every month to discuss, share, and learn about the technology they all have grown to love. After the second month it was decided a different meeting place would be needed so Wayne Bryan, N5JLJ, secured a room at Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas where our meetings are being held to this day.

As a loosely knit group we participated in many activities such as the Bankhead Convoy special event (June 2019), ARRL Summer Field Days and many impromptu “Frosty Breaks”. Because of our participation in group activities while still not forming an official club we applied for a club callsign and received February 2010 – W5HAR. The first Trustees of the club callsign were Bob White, AI4GI, and Nicky Jacks, WX5J. In July 2016 Bob moved from Helena and Joe St. Columbia, Jr., N5MIG, was asked to replace Bob and became the Trustee of the club callsign.

In the Spring of 2019 when both 2M and 440 repeaters failed. Joe St. Columbia, Jr., N5MIG, purchased two Yaesu® System Fusion repeaters, duplexers, controller, feedline and antennas. Other amateurs including Johnny “Mac” McKenzie, KG5YMI, donated cash and Bob, AI4GI, donated the purchase of solar panels to ensure off grid dependency. Solar panel engineering was provided by Johnny Mac, KG5YMI, and ground crew for antennas and solar panel installation was provided by Denver, WD5BGP, and James Babcock, KG5BPN. One repeater was coordinated on 444.875+ MHz the second repeater was coordinated on 146.805- MHz and analog linked through the controller.

In September of 2020 our group decided to take a leap of faith. The youngest amateur radio operator in our group need help in the form of a scholarship for college. The only way we could help him apply for an ARRL scholarship was to become affiliated club with the ARRL. In one meeting, we voted to, become a club pass and draft our Constitution and By-Laws. In October we were an affiliated club with the ARRL. Joe, N5MIG was voted in as President; Denver, WD5BGP, was Vice President; and Jeff Steele, KF5EIJ, was voted in as Secretary/Treasurer. Not only did Logan Heinzelman. KI5HXE, receive a $2,500 Scholarship his first year but received a $10,000 Scholarship his second year. In 2021 the Helena Amateur Radio Club became a 501 (C) (3) Organization.

In the Spring of 2021 Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas recognized the importance of emergency communications and the training of amateur radio operators and emergency responders. The College allowed the Helena Amateur Radio Club (HARC) to re-fit a solar training trailer into an emergency communications trailer. The trailer is used for special events such as demonstrations, ARRL Summer Field Day and various other activities. In the Spring of 2023, the HARC was asked to place a tower on the Stuttgart Arkansas Campus to support of the Colleges Wi-Fi and security communications need. In return the HARC was allowed to place a repeater on the tower led by Lee Williams, K5WMS. This repeater is a coordinated repeater on 444.975+ MHz and linked to the Helena 2M and 440 repeaters via Wires-X and cross-band repeat. The permeant linking of these repeaters significantly increased the footprint of the Helena Amateur Radio Club.

The future remains bright for the amateur radio operators in Helena and the surrounding areas. We hope you enjoyed reading our club history and if not a member, consider, if not joining us, joining the ever-growing hobby known as Amateur Radio!

Return to About Us »