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Young hams make the grade

Dalton Duggars and Jordan Sirmans are two of the youngest licensed ham radio operators in Georgia

Proteges and mentor, Jordan Sirmans, 12, left, Gene Clark and Dalton Duggars, 11, share an enthusiasm for amateur radio. Sirmans and Duggars recently earned their technicians licenses, making them two of the youngest licensed ham radio operators in Georgia.(Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

Proteges and mentor, Jordan Sirmans, 12, left, Gene Clark and Dalton Duggars, 11, share an enthusiasm for amateur radio. Sirmans and Duggars recently earned their technicians licenses, making them two of the youngest licensed ham radio operators in Georgia.(Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

ALBANY — Surrounded by radio gear, Gene Clark sat in his chair and listened intently as his two sixth grade proteges were interviewed by a reporter recently.

Dalton Duggers, 11, and Jordan Sirmans, 12, recently earned their radio technician’s licenses, making them two of the youngest licensed ham radio operators in Georgia. The two friends are are members of the Albany Amateur Radio Club (AARC) and are in the Gifted Program at Merry Acres Middle School.

Clark, the president of the AARC, is also the elected first leader of Georgia. A retired physician, Clark is also Dalton’s grandfather.

“I’d watched my grandfather talking to people all over the U.S. and Canada and thought that would be a pretty cool thing to do,” Dalton said. “I decided to get into (ham radio) and have really enjoyed it a lot. I just want to be able to talk to people all over the country.”

Dalton’s new hobby caught the eye of his friend, Jordan.

“I saw Dalton having so much fun, I got a little jealous and asked Mr. Gene if he would also teach me,” Jordan said. “I enjoy talking to people. My little five-watt transmitter (which he patted fondly for emphasis) has reached all the way to Atlanta.”

The boys are currently working on moving up in the ham radio hierarchy to a general class license which would grant them more privileges.

“I work with the boys for an hour two days a week after school,” Clark, who has been a ham enthusiast since 1956, said.

He then turned and tapped a stack of flash cards on his desk.

“There are 800 questions here. When you take the test (to earn a license or upgrade), you will be asked 35 questions and you must answer 70 percent correctly,” Clark said. “I am doing something different with the boys. These two kids are special. They represent the future of amateur radio. I am trying to teach them what the answers mean rather than just teaching them the answers to the questions.”

Clark’s goal is to stretch the boys brains academically as well as socially.

“After all, physics is physics and math is math, he said. “I want them to do what they are really interested in.”

Shortly after receiving their technicians licenses, the boys put it to practical use during Albany’s Christmas Parade.

“We rode our bicycles around and help set up the floats in their proper position,” Dalton said. “We used our radios a lot. We helps get the floats in the correct order so that the parade would not be a jumbled mess.

Dalton (call sign KK4TXW) and Jordan (call sign KK4TSF) both have goals set for their future in amateur radio.

“I’d like to reach Extra Class (the highest license possible in amateur radio) and talk to someone in Asia, Europe or anywhere else in the world,” he said. “I think that would be really cool.”

Jordan agreed.

“I’d like to get the Extra Class too and talk to people all over the world, then meet them in person.”

Clark (call sign W4AYK) would approve.