When you first hear the mousey voice of Mikaila Williams, it is hard to imagine her hamming it up on amateur radio.
But ham radio has helped the 9-year-old Deltona youth become a communications sensation, allowing her to showcase her vibrant personality and caring attitude and capture the attention of scores of "hams" or amateur radio operators.
Ham radio is the use of designated radio frequency spectrum for recreational or emergency use, wireless experimentation or other forms that are different from commercial broadcasting, public safety transmission or two-way radio.
Last Thursday night at the Winter Springs Civic Center, Williams' talents were on full display at a Lake Monroe Amateur Radio Society Seminole County meeting. Williams gave a speech about her hobby to a small crowd of amateur radio enthusiasts; it was all part of preparing her for one of the biggest events of her life - the Dayton Hamvention, the world's largest amateur radio gathering in Dayton, Ohio. The Dayton Hamvention is scheduled for May 18-20.
"I am a little nervous," said Williams, who is the LMARS' youngest member. "There will be over 10,000 people watching me live and all the media will be there. I just have to practice a lot to make sure I get it right the first time. I will not lose track that I am having fun with what I am doing and it is for a great cause that I believe in, so I will do OK."
While most kids her age are checking their Facebook notifications, watching the latest videos on YouTube or playing video games, Williams is constantly honing her craft as an amateur radio operator. She is reported to be among the youngest hams in the country to hold all three FCC licenses in the field: Technician, General Class and Extra Class, the last of which she has held since May 2011.
"We are all very proud of Mikaila," Norm Lauterette, member of the LMARS Board of Directors, said. "Some teenagers reach that Extra Class level, but it is rare. For an 8- or 9-year-old [to reach it is] unbelievable."
The complexities, terminology and use of ham radio have never intimidated Williams, a straight-A student at Connections Academy, a nationally accredited and award-winning online school. She freely and easily navigates the ham radio technology as if she were doing it for decades. Good listening skills and the ability to memorize amateur radio's jargon has helped her become a natural.
An Oklahoma native who has lived in Florida for most of her life, she goes by the designation of KI4DS, a vanity call sign composed from the characters of a previous call sign (KK4BFK or KK4 Big Funny Kisses), a region number and one of the digital radio bands that she uses: D-Star.
"The mix is kind of 'Kids 4 D-Star.' It is a 9-year-old's imagination," she said with a laugh.
Williams, who also enjoys membership in Disney Emergency Amateur Radio Services or "DEARS," and the Osceola Amateur Radio Services, began to imagine herself as a ham in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Her stepdad, Ron Fetters, a former firefighter who responded to the Oklahoma City bombing and to Ground Zero in New York City, and biological mother, Jennipher Moody, were practicing emergency assistance simulations on amateur radio when they drew Williams' attention.
"When Japan was devastated, I saw how much help my mom and dad were practicing simulations, as though something [actually] happened around us, and they assisted with their amateur radios," Williams said. "I told them I wanted to help my community like they did."
With the help and encouragement of Fetters, Williams studied for and quickly passed the FCC's Technician exam. Inspired by her accomplishment, Williams decided that she wanted to go the distance and earn an Extra Class license, the same license that Fetters holds. Fetters had become enraptured with the amateur radio field during his firefighting days.
"It was a lot of studying," Williams said. "I passed each of the three license classes. Ohm's Law, circuits, resistors, watts, amps and everything that comes along with getting all three [licenses] did meet with its own challenges, but my mommy and daddy were patient with me and told me to take a break. But, I had goals to meet for myself, so I kept pestering them until I learned it. There was just less a month between each of my license upgrades."
Ham radio's ability to reach out and help others has prompted Williams to expand her community-assistance goals. She is taking FEMA courses to be fully trained and ready in the event of an emergency, and currently belongs to and assists the area chapter of the American Red Cross.
"I like knowing that if an emergency happens, I have the training, knowledge and licenses and certificates to be able to help my community get back on their feet," she said.
One of Williams' biggest challenges, though, is raising enough money to attend the Dayton Hamvention. Fetters estimates it will cost $1,800 to cover the expenses for himself and his step-daughter. LMARS has helped the family by kickstarting a fundraising campaign, and the Quarter Century Wireless Association later matched the LMARS donation.
Lauterette, a Casselberry resident, estimates about $700 to $800 has been raised, thus far, and is confident that Williams will make the trip and inspire other youths to venture into the world of amateur radio.
"Our youth moving into amateur radio is the best thing that could happen to amateur radio," Lauterette said. "Recently, amateur radio generated a new life for our hobby due to the addition of digital technology into its various modes of operation. Digital technology in new radios today allows hams to talk worldwide as if the persons on the other end were in the same room.
"D-Star is one of those advancements and Mikaila uses D-Star on a regular basis," Lauterette said. "Young people are attracted to new technology. Facebook, Twitter, etcetera, are new communication technologies that are hot right now, but nothing beats live, clear, uninterrupted voice conversation with someone nearby or on the other side of the world. Mikaila is our poster child and is helping to make this happen."
As for the future, Williams sees some benefits from being an amateur radio operator. She said she can picture herself being a news anchor, someday, or developing innovative communications systems. But, for now, she just wants to show the world a kid can have a lot of fun being a ham.
"The more kids, the higher the promise that this amazing hobby will continue for years beyond even me," she said.
Source: www.seminolechronicle.com - Jeff Gardenour