By Dr. Ginger Gabriel
Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
Field Day for amateur radio operators – also called ham radio operators or just hams – is about being ready for an emergency.
Amateur radio operators engage in two-way personal communications on radio frequencies assigned to the amateur radio service by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Field Day event serves as an emergency preparedness test, as well as a contest between radio enthusiasts across the U.S. and Canada, an estimated 40,000 of them.
The national Field Day included many opportunities to make contact with hams across North America in hundreds of temporary transmitting stations in public places. For the competitive radio (ham) operator, their goal on Field Day was to contact as many of the other stations across America as possible. It was also to demonstrate ham radio science, skill and service to communities and the nation.
My goal, however, had been to pass the ham radio exam and get my entry level technician license by Field Day. Until you get a license, you are not allowed to talk on that radio. My goal was accomplished and I had been assigned my call sign, KN6TJT.
I had joined the local ham club, Mountain Top Amateur Radio Association (MTARA). I thought I was ready to begin my ham career and be prepared for any emergency.
The local Field Day took place on Saturday, June 25 at the Masonic Lodge in Twin Peaks. I signed in and then I first wandered around watching grown men and women playing with solar panels, demonstrating how one type of panel was better than another. Both men and women were talking about how to get more power to the equipment. All this power they were talking about was sourced completely “off the grid.’’ They weren’t plugging into the Masonic Lodge to power their equipment.
At a break, I met Chrystal, KK6API, and asked her how she happened to become an amateur radio operator. “We moved up here many years ago,” she said, “and went to a meeting at a local church to help new people acclimate themselves. We were handed a map of local ham radio operators. We were told, ‘Here is where you can go if you have trouble and can’t get help.’”
And then Chrystal heard a speaker ask, “You all know what to do in case of a wildfire?” She looked over the map and saw that none of those ham operators were in the area she lived in and she also had no idea what to do in case of a wildfire. Chrystal asked how to become a ham operator and said that being a ham operator has given her an opportunity to give back to the community and help with communications in the wildfires. “We can help with the Red Cross shelters during evacuations and teach first aid classes. There are so many things we can do when we’re trained.”
The local MTARA club set up 11 stations for Field Day training. Each of us was given an Adventure Pass, listing the eleven stations. The Adventure Pass included: Emergency Communications during a crisis, a VHF/UHF Station, what a Field Camping Station looks like, Morse Code (how to learn it, send it and understand it), Circuits, Soldering, Anderson Power Poles, Antenna Launching, EZ Antennas for the Field and how to do SOTA and POTA.
If you were driving on Highway 189 on Field Day, you would have noticed an abundance of antennas above the Masonic Lodge. I now understand how the antennas work and am pretty sure I would not be able to put one up on my own. If you are a member of MTARA, there is a team of “Elmers” who will come to your home and help you put up that antenna up. An Elmer is a person who will help you learn how to be an amateur radio operator.
One of the most entertaining exercises of the day was the antenna launching to secure the antenna in the branches of a tall tree. Most of us failed to throw the guideline high enough into the branches to attach the antenna to the tree. It was pretty funny watching our feeble efforts. The antenna captures and/or transmits radio electromagnetic waves to allow for communication.
In an emergency or out on a Field Day, the type of solar panel you are connecting to for electricity (power) can make the difference of being able to call out “emergency” or “priority traffic” or not being heard.
My diligence in learning something from each station earned me a raffle ticket. Jo and I won handheld radios just for entering. Ted, KK6LWK, was the grand prize winner of the Kenwood TM-V71 transmitter.
Field Day has come and gone. Getting more of us prepared for a future crisis is good for the community. If you already have an amateur license, radio equipment and are thinking maybe it’s time to get reconnected, come join us at the Lake Arrowhead Community Presbyterian Church for our regularly scheduled meetings.
For more information, visit www.MTARA.club.