Local enthusiasts take part in amateur radio field day
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Every year, on the fourth weekend in June, thousands of amateur radio operators across the U.S. and Canada spend 24 hours practicing emergency preparedness and trying to contact their fellow operators in as many states and provinces as they can.
“We’re showing we can communicate almost anywhere,” said “ham” Anne Santos.
The Amateur Radio Relay League’s Field Day was celebrated in Coweta County at the Coweta County Fairgrounds by the Bill Gremillion Memorial Radio Club.
It’s the biggest event of the year for local “hams,” and many stayed all night and through Sunday, napping on cots.
Field day simulates what the radio operators would do during an emergency or natural disaster situation. Various antennas are erected on site, and the radio stations can be operated by a generator. One station runs entirely on a lawnmower battery.
Four stations are run simultaneously. One is a Morse code station, one is a data station, one does data and voice, and one is voice. Or, as it’s more technically known, “fone."
There were 15 antennas erected around the fairgrounds. Simple wire antenna are wires strung between trees or other objects; there are also three “beam” antennas. “They’re all for different frequencies,” said Marc Pilotte of the BGMRC.
The hams use “potato guns” to help erect their antennas. The guns are made of large diameter PVC pipe, valves and fishing reels. Air is pumped into one end with a bicycle pump. The air is then released to shoot a “torpedo” over trees and other objects. The guns can launch the torpedo 300 to 400 feet. It’s attached with fishing line to the reel. The fishing line is then tied to a thin cord, and then to the antenna wire.
The whole purpose of field day is a “simulation for an emergency situation,” Pilotte said.
In situations where regular lines of communication are knocked out, amateur radio operators can provide communications for the county, state or country.
“We handle communication when no one else can,” Pilotte said.
In the days before cell phones, amateur radio emergency communications were more common, but extended power outages can knock out cell phones, too. Cell towers run out of backup power after about two days, Pilotte said. And frivolous phone calls during disasters can cause them to run out more quickly.
Field Day is an event of the American Radio Relay League, which in 2014 is celebrating its 100th year.
Tony Oresteen was operating his 5 watt, battery powered station during the event. It can’t broadcast as far as the 100-watt stations, but, in an emergency, it can do a lot. And it’s portable.
Oresteen is a retired lieutenant colonel with Army Special Forces.
“We used to have to carry our radios. That’s why I like small radios,” he said.
Ann Santos is one of the few female hams. She’s been licensed since 1979. “I pursued a career in electronics. Ham radio and electronics tend to go hand in hand,” she said. “Back in the old days, there were very few women.”
Amateur radio is a passion for her – especially Morse code. “I love to do Morse,” she said.
Ira Bray is the club’s oldest member. He and several other members have visited hams from other countries whom they have communicated with.
“We made eyeball contact with them,” Bray said.
Bray visited another ham in Vienna, Austria. As they got to know each other, they found out he had been a German POW in the camp that Bray was in charge of. Bray and his wife also visited a ham in Grenada.
Bray heard one German radio operator “say he had entertained over 200 amateurs in his home.”
Matt Gonter has been a licensed ham since the mid-1970s and active in Coweta since 1985.
He likes the public service/public safety aspect. “That is why I enjoy doing it, to give back to the community.” He’s been a volunteer firefighter and water rescue diver and “this is just another way of giving back,” he said.
He’s installed a ham radio on his motorcycle and has done communications for bicycling events and road races.
On the recent Saturday, he worked with a newer ham to get his radio programmed. For more information on the Bill Gremillion Memorial Radio Club, visit www.bgmrc.com .