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Utah girl talks her way to ham-radio license

6-year-old is believed to be the youngest operator in the state

BOUNTIFUL — Melinda Dowding says her daughter Jessica started talking when she was about 8 months old and hasn't stopped since.

The 6-year-old Bountiful girl, whose call sign is KD7PIO, is believed to be the youngest ham radio operator in Utah and talks to relatives and others on her radio for two or three hours every day. She passed the test to receive her amateur radio technician license in December.

"She's always been our talker," her mom said.

Jessica went to the testing center in Logan with her father, and officials there automatically thought her father was the one getting his license. "But my daddy told them I was the one taking the test," Jessica Dowding said. "They were pretty surprised when I passed."

After studying all day every day for about a week, Jessica, who is home-schooled, answered 27 out of 35 questions correctly — one more than is necessary to pass.

Mark Richardson, president of the Utah Amateur Radio Club, says Jessica is the youngest person to pass the test that he has ever heard of, and he has been involved in amateur radio throughout his life.

"I think that's amazing," he said. "Probably half the people that go in to take the test don't pass."

Even before she became an officially licensed amateur radio technician, Jessica had memorized the call signs for virtually everyone in her extended family.

Her interest in ham radios stems from her parents. Her father, Clark, has been using the radio for about 10 years, her mother for about eight. Jessica has been talking on a ham radio for several years, but because she wasn't licensed it has always required the supervision of a licensed operator. Now that she has her license, she can talk on her own and even takes her new hand-held, dual-band Yaesu with her to sleepovers at friends' homes so she and her parents can be in contact.

The radio works "as long as it's not in front of a mountain or too far" from the main HF/VHF transceiver at her house, Jessica said.

While sometimes she wishes more of her friends used radios as well, she has been in contact with a 7-year-old girl in Pennsylvania who heard about Jessica's license and wants Jessica to teach her how to study for the test so she can also become licensed.

Jessica has ambitious goals of receiving more advanced ham radio licenses in the next few years and also plans to participate in the Davis County Amateur Radio Club with her father.

In fact, she plans to soon learn Morse Code so she can receive her technician-plus license, then her general-class license, which would allow her to reach people around the world. She says she'd like to receive the most advanced license possible, the extra class, by the time she is about 9. Licenses are granted by the Federal Communications Commission.

"She's probably the youngest (ham radio operator) in a lot of states," Melinda Dowding said. "It's also rare to have so many ham radio operators in one family. We have 12."

Ham radios are used for emergency services, but people around the world use them to communicate with one another.

The Dowdings use ham radios more than their home phone, Melinda Dowding said.