Ham Radio Operators Will Be On the Air for National Field Day Drill
ADAMS, Mass. — This weekend, for 24 hours, more than 26,000 ham radio operators will be on the air in an annual exercise testing their abilities to keep a communications system up and running in an emergency.
"I feel it's very important because it lets the operator get to know their equipment better. It lets you run into real-world problems that could happen, like say if we had an emergency event, a radio goes down or an antenna breaks, things that we can do to fix them in the field," said Cory Adelt Jr., district emergency coordinator for the local amateur radio emergency service. "You can make a homemade wire dipole with a calculation for each frequency so if that one antenna dies, you can literally make an antenna on site and string it up in a tree and still be able to get back in communication."
Some hams from NOBARC will also use the radio stations set up in their homes or taken to their back yards and other locations to operate individually or with their families. Many hams have portable radio communication capability that includes alternative energy sources such as generators, solar panels, and batteries to power their equipment. This year's event is also noteworthy given that a particularly active hurricane season is predicted, according the club's press release.
While more internet-focused emergency communications, like Zello, have come on the scene in the last two decades, Adelt points out that these apps and cell phones require a communications network that can be affected by disasters. When the two radio towers on Florida Mountain collapsed in 2014, it disrupted communications across North County, including for emergency services.
"Ham radio functions completely independently of the internet and phone systems and a station can be set up almost anywhere in minutes," he said. "Hams can quickly raise a wire antenna in a tree or on a mast, connect it to a radio and power source, and communicate effectively with others. ...
"This year, we had an interesting rule change that we can only run 100 watts. So that's a fairly small amount of power," he said compared to 1,500 watts used in most bands. "It's going to make it like a real emergency situation, like we don't have enough power to run the big amplifier."
Adelt's been a ham radio operator for about 28 years and says he has more time to spend doing things like Field Day that he's retired as a volunteer firefighter.
"I've gone to them over the years here and there. It's just now I have the time that I can actually go out and play," he laughed.
Ham, or amateur radio, is as old as the discovery of radio waves, with one of the first how-to systems appearing in a 1901 magazine and the first commercially available equipment on the market by 1905.
Interest in ham radio started to decline toward the turn of the last century when the internet and cell phones became more ubiquitous but Adelt said interest has been picking up again and growing, albeit by smaller amounts than in the past. In fact, the internet may be helping support that interest because people can now take courses and testing virtually.
"They're doing anywhere from 16 to 20 people a weekend taking a test and a good 95 percent of them actually pass," he said.
Ham radio operators have be licensed to get on the air, with the lowest level that of technician. That requires passing a test of at least 35 questions on radio theory, operations and regulations. Higher levels are general, which allows the operator to connect internationally, and amateur extra, which gives operating privileges on all bands and modes. There is no age limit and ham radio clubs are hoping to engage younger students.
There was a total of about 755,000 licenseholders in 2018, with about 7,000 added annually, according to the ARRL, which has a membership of about 160,000.
The American Radio Relay League
, or ARRL, has been running Field Day since 1933. It's always held the fourth weekend in June and clubs are encouraged to hold them in public places to show people the reach and use of ham radios. ARRL calls it ham radio's open house.
Adelt, call sign N1XWS, said area residents are welcome to join the club beginning at 2 p.m. on Saturday at 440 Peru Road in Windsor. The drill runs through Sunday at 2 p.m.
The club will have a special station set up for anyone who would like to try it out for themselves.
"You could actually make a contact using our club call sign," said Adelt. "One of our operators will be right there with you and then you could see what it's like to talk on the radio. We do encourage the public to come."
A self-study license guide, the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual, is available through ARRL and Kindle. For more information about ARRL Field Day and ham radio, contact Cory Adelt at email@example.com.