Amateur radio operators participate in field day

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Sunday, June 24, 2012
— Carl Cramer shook his head as he used a soldering gun to fuse two sets of radio wires together.

One set was connected to a circa-1980s ham radio tuner. The other went 65 feet to the top of a steam-powered pile driver at Thresherman’s Park.

“Murphy’s law,” Cramer said. “You can sit at home and theorize, but when you get out in the field, sometimes you need to re-form your ideas around reality.”

Reality was Cramer was trying to coax a set of transponders to emit a signal strong enough to reach one of the 35,000 ham radio operators taking part in a national amateur radio field day Saturday and today.

He was struggling to get out a signal, either because of changing atmospheric conditions Saturday or a weak connection between radio wires.

Cramer and about 15 members of his ham radio club, the Greater Beloit Amateur Radio Club, have been camped out this weekend at Thresherman’s Park for the field day.

The point of the annual event is for members of the national Amateur Radio Relay League to practice amateur, or ham, radio communication capabilities in case catastrophic weather or another disaster knocks out electricity and traditional telecommunications.

In widespread disasters, such as the 2011 tornado that leveled Joplin, Mo., volunteer ham radio operators are among the first to provide communication and information to police, fire and local governments—even such agencies as Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Storm chasers often use ham radios to transmit data to weather agencies such as the National Weather Service.

“If you’ve seen somebody out in a storm in a car with a bunch of funny radio antennas on it, that’s a (ham) radio weather spotter,” said radio club member Greg Niles of Janesville.

The radio club had a network of radios wired together at the park, forming a communication base in tents that was powered off a Korean War-era gasoline generator.

The group sent out continuous radio signals using Morse code, digital transmissions and voice signals. Some groups made contact with others participating in the field day in locations that included Maine, Arizona and the Yukon in Canada.

Ham radio transmits by bouncing radio signals in a variety of frequencies off the upper levels of the atmosphere. The time of day and weather conditions can limit transmission or cause signals to “skip,” sometimes across entire continents.

Cramer, a retired Janesville Craig High School math teacher, said he picked up ham radio in the 1950s as a teen.

Cramer said the FCC has relaxed licensing requirements for ham radio operators since the days when he was learning the ropes. He hopes that will help to usher in a new generation of amateur radio enthusiasts.

Nearby, younger members of the club used a hand-held antenna, a digital ham radio and a smart phone to link up with an amateur radio satellite passing 120 miles overhead.

“See, it’s not just for guys with this,” Cramer said, pointing to his white hair.

On the web

To learn more about amateur, or ham, radio, visit the national organization Amateur Radio Relay League visit arrl.org. To learn more about the Greater Beloit Amateur Radio Club and other ham radio groups in Rock County, visit rockhamradio.com.

Last updated: 8:43 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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