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Man connecting ham radio operators every Friday

By DERRICK MASON The Journal-Standard

FREEPORT, Ill. -- If you were to walk into Jim Dorsey's one-bedroom apartment, you might not expect to see 30 to 50 people gather there each Friday night.

Dorsey, 69, runs Friday Night Fun Net, a weekly gathering of ham radio operators. Dorsey's net draws people from Freeport to Michigan to his living room via radio waves. As many as 120 people in a single night have tuned in to Dorsey's frequency to swap stories.

Dorsey, who is legally blind, got his ham radio license in 2004 after memorizing all the questions to the test. His love for radio goes back to when he was growing up in Ridott. Overall, there are 68 people with amateur radio call signs in Freeport, according to radioreference.com.

"Radio has always been my thing," he said. "I've been interested in it since I was a young man. I listen to more radio than I watch TV."

When people tune in to Dorsey's net, it's all about relaxing and getting to know other people. Dorsey makes sure he has a topic prepared that will spark conversation. He might ask everyone about their Valentine's Day plans or their favorite beer.

"I get to hear a lot of hams come in and talk about what they're doing, what topics are on their mind," said Scott Francis, a frequent participant on the Friday Night Fun Net. "Jim gets the quite the collection of check-ins to his net."

There are plenty of nets to choose from, but none quite like Dorsey's. He started Friday Night Fun Net in 2008, and he's seen its popularity boom, as well as his own. His enthusiasm as a host has earned him the nickname "Mr. Friday Night."

"None of the other nets in the area get the same amount of participation as Jim's does," Francis said. "He is just so gung-ho for it, and I think he's just as excited now as he was when he started it."

Dorsey, who never forgets someone's name, radio call sign or even voice, considers the other radio operators an extension of his family. He said the reason he still loves hosting the net comes from his faith.

"I feel like the Lord wanted me to do this," he said. "I think I'm doing his work when I'm bringing people together like this."

To get a basic technician license to become a ham radio operator, a candidate has to pass a 35-question examination that covers regulations, operation practices and electronics theory. There is a large variety of new and used radio equipment available to those interested in starting a new hobby.

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