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Hamming it up at radio club field day

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Dan Pool / Photo
    Jasper Radio Club members scan and listen for contacts in the competitive Field Day.
    Ham radio operators worked around the clock in Lee Newton park last weekend scanning dials, calling out lingo, sending Morse code and listening for other radio users around the world as part of a 24-hour competition.
    The Jasper Radio Club hoped to repeat past success (they have won in several previous years) by making contact with more people than any other group their size between 2 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.


    Early on, it was tough going. The array of antennas and wires strung from tall trees in the park linked back to radio equipment wasn’t producing many confirmed contacts. The solar conditions were “pretty rough,” according to Jasper Radio Club member Michael Mauldin.
    Mauldin, who has been operating ham radio sets since the 1970s, explained that the sun’s activities a few days before the event influences how well radio waves fly around the world and a particularly calm period on the sun had led to slow results Saturday. Actually, Mauldin’s explanation was much more technical, but that was all the reporter could take in.
    The local hams were using all means to make contacts including Morse code, voice and e-mails that can now be sent over radios.
    Mauldin said ham operators tend to pursue different specialties – some like the emergency communications response and the Field Day is a perfect simulation of what could be done if all telephone and cellular capacity were lost.
    “A cell phone may only be as good as the generator that powers a tower,” he said.
    Saturday, the Jasper Club used solar panels, generators, batteries and certified low power operations, which boosted their points in the contest.
    Other ham operators, like Bill Tempel who started with home radios in the 1960s, is into DX – long distance communications. Tempel said there are 339 known (nations) entities that have ham operators and he had made confirmed contacts in 260 of them and has another one pending official confirmation on.
    “It’s almost as much an art form as a technology, to think of what the equipment can do and what you want to do with it,” he said.
    Pat Haynes, a fixture on the local ham scene, and Harry Freeman, were in the sheriff’s mobile emergency command center, using computers to rapidly scan and send Morse code, except they too were having the same atmospheric problems.             Haynes and Freeman didn’t take much of a break to talk about their work, however, other operators noted that Morse code “can be really fun.”
    When they did make contact, the competitors at Field Day wasted no time with small talk – just confirming identity and location and logging it for points.
    Despite the poor atmospheric conditions and the local club’s tactical decision to run low power equipment that makes everything more difficult but boosts points, the operators at the park had made contacts as far away as Wisconsin, Puerto Rico and New Hampshire within the first hour of competition.
    For several years it appeared that ham radio use was waning. But, according to Reed Krenn, formerly of Hunter’s Ridge, who returns from Florida every year for the Field Day, two things have brought renewed interest. First, there is more merging of digital/technical aspects – e-mails and text messages can be sent over the radio. Second the “maker movement” has discovered that radios are a great way to combine home tinkering and technology, which “has opened up a whole new world.”
    The results of how the Jasper Radio Club fared in the competition will have to be verified and it may take a few days to find out the results.

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