Ham radio operators have a field day

Ham radio operators across the country will set up temporary communications stations this weekend to hone their skills and demonstrate the valuable service amateurs can provide during emergencies.

Members of the Blue Ridge Amateur Radio Club will set up their equipment at Jackson Park in Hendersonville. The event will run from 2 p.m. Saturday, June 27, to 2 p.m. Sunday, June 28, and the public is invited.

“Every year on the last weekend in June, the ham radio operators from around the United States all go out to different preselected, remote sites,” club member David Day explains. “The goal is to practice their ability to set up temporary radio stations and be able to communicate and send messages to one another, so that if there were a big national emergency, we know that we’ve kept the skills to be able to do that.”

Amateur Radio Field Day is coordinated by the American Radio Relay League; the national organization celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. Last year, more than 45,000 operators nationwide participated in the event.

“The fastest way to turn a crisis into a total disaster is to lose communications,” notes Allen Pitts of the American Radio Relay League. “From the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to tornadoes in Missouri, ham radio provided the most reliable communication networks in the first critical hours. Because ham radios aren’t dependent on the Internet, cell towers or other infrastructure, they work when nothing else is available. We need nothing between us but air.”

The Hendersonville club, which has about 50 members, will set up stations and practice sending and receiving Morse code, digital, Internet and traditional voice communications. There’ll also be a station enabling visitors without a ham license to try out long-distance, worldwide radio communications.

“It’s to keep the bugs out of the system,” says Day. “Plus, it’s a time to have a lot of fun. The public can come in and see what we’re doing. The goal is to keep it up and running for 24 hours, so we know that in case of an emergency, we’re ready to go.”

Solar panels will power Day’s radio station; the others will run on emergency generators. He’ll also be testing an experimental antenna he’s been working on for six months.

“The appeal that fuels ham radio for me is to make the best station possible, so that I can get the clearest communications I can over very long distances,” says Day.

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