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Calling North America: Radio enthusiasts hold annual field day

DAILY LEADER / JULIA PENDLEY / Patrick Brown communicates with an amateur radio station in Kentucky during the Southwest Amateur Radio Club's field day event Saturday at the Brookhaven Recreation Department.

DAILY LEADER / JULIA PENDLEY / Patrick Brown communicates with an amateur radio station in Kentucky during the Southwest Amateur Radio Club’s field day event Saturday at the Brookhaven Recreation Department.

Area amateur radio enthusiasts are spending the weekend in an effort to contact as many ham radio stations in North America as possible.

The Southwest Amateur Radio Club’s annual Amateur Radio Field Day event began at 1 p.m. Saturday and by about 2 p.m., they had already contacted stations in eight different states.

Amateur radio, often called “ham radio’ enthusiasts across the continent are working in emergency conditions, meaning that anything used to transmit can only operate off of a battery or generator, said Homer Richardson of the local group.

Amateur stations are using power sources such as wind, solar and even bicycle. The SWARC is using solar panels to keep their batteries charged.

Richardson said during the day they work on contacting stations further away and focus on those closer by after sunset. Richardson explained that the light from the sun helps create a mirror effect with the ionosphere. The mirror-effect allows signals from the ham radio to reflect back to places farther away. Because amateur radio relies on signals bouncing off the upper atmosphere, the time of day, sunlight availability and the season all play a part in the distance the signal can reach.

Richardson said, for example, that sometimes of the day he can reach Japan and others he can only reach Florida.

Bob Reeves explained that the ham radio frequencies are not used commercially because of their inconsistency. Commercial radios need to rely that their signal will work at all times.

“If it’s a hobby, you can deal with that,” he said.

Richardson argued that the unreliability is exactly what makes amateur radio so effective in emergencies. Amateur radio operators are able to easily adapt to regain communication connections, whereas if a police radio’s frequency goes down they do not have the same versatility.

Richardson said that no matter what else was going on, if an emergency, such as a tornado, occurred, the group would quickly volunteer.

“This stuff would all shut down,” he said, “and we’d say, ‘Where do you need us.”

Reeves added the biggest benefit of amateur radio over other communication channels. “We work whenever cell towers don’t,” he said.

After working with amateur radio long enough, the specialized alphabet, language and Morse code become second nature. Richardson said the sounds over the radio almost sound like music.

For anyone interested in getting into amateur radio, the club members are happy to share their knowledge. They have a demonstration table set up throughout the field day event at the Brookhaven Recreation Department on Highway 51 North. The event ends at 1 p.m. today.