As you may have read in earlier posts, I was out for nearly two weeks hiking and camping with my grandson, Mikey in mid-June. We returned just in time to catch the ARRL’s Field Day 17 weekend -June 24-25, 2017. ARRL being the Amateur Radio Relay League -amateur radio’s association which works to support amateur radio operators and the industry overall. Field Day is a big deal in the Ham radio community because clubs all over the country gather to get-on-the-air and test their skills with a variety of emergency communications radio equipment, some using conventional power, others using battery power to mimic the environment after natural disasters where normal communication modes are not working -cell phones, the Internet is out, etc.
It was a busy weekend -getting all the camping gear cleaned up and put away, catching up on yard work, and getting ready to depart town again – early on the Monday after Field Day weekend. So much to do, and only the weekend to get it all done. This report is a bit late, but ‘better late than never’ might be my motto in this case.
I couldn’t miss Field Day if at all possible. It would be a great place to meet more local Ham radio operators and learn more about operating more efficiently and effectively. I helped get things set up for the joint Richfield Amateur Radio Club (RARC) and Bloomington Amateur Radio Association (BARA) Field Day event, on Saturday morning, in the Richfield Community Center. The Community Center is located in a municipal park that’s full of large trees -perfect for supporting several dipole antennas.
After helping get tables and chairs set up and hauling various boxes of radio gear and refreshments into the building, I helped get a couple dipole antennas set up in the trees outside, near the building. Then we got things all connected -to power, to batteries, to analyzers… radios, tuners, computers… yada, yada.
About lunchtime, I headed home to eat and get some backpacking gear organized for Monday’s departure. After a few hours, I headed over to another park to visit another Ham Club’s Field Day activities.
The Twin City FM Club was taken by surprise when they found a regional soccer competition being held in the same park they were using for Field Day activities. The parking lots were all full and hundreds of people were wondering the park -to say nothing about all the soccer fields that had been set up throughout the park. All the competing soccer teams and family/friends/vendors tended to overshadow the Field Day activities. In fact, I think the large sports crowd and lack of parking actually tended to keep the radio folks away -which was too bad. I renewed my membership and talked with a few Club members, but didn’t spend much time there.
I returned to the RARC/BARA activities to see how everything was going. Some of the members from the morning were gone, and other members were there to take their place. There were always at least three hf (high frequency bands) stations running, and there was also some VHF/UHF and crossband operators as well. One of our members even got a large U.S. Army mobile radio vehicle set up in the parking lot for people to visit. Most stations were phone/voice operations, but there were a couple of people using CW (continuous wave/Morris Code) as well. It was a great idea to combine both Club’s Field Day activities. I’d say it was a major success!
There were people operating radios and people logging contacts for them, and others watching, talking/listening and learning. There were people in their teens (and below), and people in their 70’s and beyond, in attendance. I talked with quite a few folks and met a few new Hams as well -expanding my radio network.
I only stayed an hour or so and had to get back to my other activities. I returned again on Sunday morning for an hour or so, and talked with station operators and others milling about. There was a lot of activity; people were enjoying themselves. I’m glad I was able to help make Field Day a success, and I enjoyed meeting some new Hams and others interested in learning about using amateur radio as an emergency communications medium. I took some pictures on both days, and included a few below.
A suburban newspaper covered the RARC/BARA Field Day in a nice article the following week, dated 7-6-2017: link no longer active, see article below.
Radio operators have fun, prepare for the worst Story and photos by Andrew Wig
Standing outside the Richfield Community Center, Bloomington Ama teur Radio Association Vice President Bill Mitchell, left, holds an antenna as he and fellow club member Dan Royer listen for a satellite passing overhead on June 24, which was Field Day for amateur radio operators around the country. The radio operators used the day to test their capabilities in the event their services would become indispensable due to a failure of regular communications networks. (Sun Current staff photo of Andrew Wig)
It’s easy to take cellphones and the internet for granted, but a group of hobbyists are standing by should some calamity befall such everyday communications networks.
“We’re Plan B,” said Matt Holden, president of the Bloomington Amateur Radio Association. Holden’s club met up with its Richfield counterpart for Field Day June 24 and 25, when amateur radio operators from around the country tested their capabilities over the airwaves.
“We’re the what-if people, so when the cellphone network goes down, how do you communicate?” Holden explained.
The radio clubs hunkered down in the basement of the Richfield community center from 1 p.m. June 24 to 1 p.m. the following day, attempting to make basic contacts with other far-flung radio operators conducting the same mission.
“This is just to test for what we could do” should amateur radio operators’ services become indispensable due to any variety of disaster or hiccups in traditional communications networks.
“Hams have helped out in tornadoes. They’ve helped out on forest fires. They’ve helped out in hurricanes, the tsunamis that happened over in Asia,” said Avery Finn, secretary of the Richfield Amateur Radio Club. Don Clay, local co-chair of the amateur radio Field Day event June 24, looks at a laptop as he programs channels into a portable radio. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)
They’ve also make their presence felt at local community events; members of the local radio clubs were recently on hand for Bloomington’s Summer Fete July 3 and Richfield’s Fourth of July parade.
Although technically amateurs, ham radio operators are part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s official communications community, a measure signed into law in 2006 following disasters including the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina.
“All hams everywhere in the country are part of Homeland Security,” Finn emphasized.
That’s what they call themselves – hams, originally a derogatory term used to describe amateur Morse code operators in the 19th century.
Operating one of three radio stations in the basement of the Richfield Community Center for Field Day June 24, Bloomington Amateur Radio Association President Matt Holden joins Merrick Falk and his father, Adam Falk, both of Lester Prairie. (Sun Current staff photo of Andrew Wig)
Also, within their radio club environs, the hams introduce themselves to one another with their call letters, in person or via broadcast. Richfield club member Don Clay, who co-chaired the Field Day locally, uses the on-air moniker of his late father.
“He liked to say, ‘Rich from Richfield, KC0TJ,’” Clay said. Those call letters, he added, are on his father’s tombstone. The younger Clay has the same plans for his own eventual grave site.
Radio, after all is part of who he is. “I’ve been doing it for 46-plus years, since I was in diapers, basically,” said Clay, 46.
Finn, 76, has been an amateur radio operator since 1956, taking up the hobby as part of a school club in St. Louis Park.
Through the years, he’s maintained a special affinity for Morse code. “It’s almost like another language, like Spanish and French or whatever,” Finn said.
Bonding over the airwaves
Amateur radio operators, all partaking in the same niche hobby, speak the same language in the sense of their kinship, too, Finn said.
Any place in the world, when a ham sees another ham’s antennae, “you go up and knock on the door and you almost instantly have made a friend,” he said.
Some hams travel the world in quests to make as many connections as possible, from as far away as possible. Holden’s quests have taken him to locales including Suriname in South America, the remote Northern Mariana Islands near Guam in the Pacific Ocean, and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.
Bloomington club member Bill Mitchell traveled to Heard Island, located between Madagascar and Antarctica, to be one of the few radio operators ever to make on-air contact from the island.
“Only twice in history has there been any radio contacts from Heard Island prior to his trip,” Holden said.
Hams can do more than send sounds, having been able to transmit photos before the advent of text messaging or email, Finn mentioned. He said his father used to send pictures of snow-covered Minnesota to astonished fellow hams in Brazil.
Other hams, Clay added, have the goal of making radio contact from every county in the U.S. But amateur radio operators maintain their local relevance through partnerships with public safety agencies as they bolster emergency communications networks. That’s how Richfield resident Tom York became a ham – through the city’s Community Emergency Response Team.
York, 49, learned radio communications out of a sense of civic service, but as one of the newer hams in the Richfield club, it became his new hobby, too.
“I’m thinking, why didn’t I do it 20 years ago?” York said.
Richfield Sun Current, ECM Publishers, 7-6-2017 Story and photos by Andrew Wig
73, de Mike KEØGZT