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Hamming up the airwaves

The Bonne Terre Airport was abuzz this weekend with the hum and crackle of multiple amateur radio operators, all members of the Eastern Ozark Amateur Radio Club and participating in the continent-wide Amateur Radio Field Day event.

Last year, more than 35,000 amateur radio operators took part in the event, which is an exercise for amateur radio operators (hams) in preparation for emergencies or communications blackouts.

Bonne Terre Airport Manager and ham operator Steve Vogt said the local club would be contacting many other operators around the country between Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

“Field Day is an emergency preparedness exercise where you go out and set up a complete portable operation — portable antennas, portable radios and theoretically, portable power,” Vogt said. “It’s to promote the idea of being able to operate under adverse conditions.”

Vogt said the annual Field Day has been happening for more than 50 years now, growing in size just as the number of licensed amateur radio operators continues to grow.

According to the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national ham radio organization, there are more than 725,000 licensed ham operators in the United States today. In a statement regarding 2018’s Field Day event, ARRL Communications Manager David Isgur said the importance of amateur radio is most readily visible during communication outages.

“It’s easy for anyone to pick up a computer or a smartphone, connect to the internet and communication with no knowledge of how the devices function or connect to each other,” Isgur said. “But if there’s an interruption of service or you’re out of range of a cell tower, you have no way to communicate.

“Ham radio functions completely independent of the internet or cell phone infrastructure, can interface with tablets or smartphones and can be set up almost anywhere in minutes. That’s the beauty of amateur radio during a communications outage.”

In addition to being an opportunity to hone skills, Vogt said there is an informal competition side of the Field Day, which urges operators to make contact with as many other operators around the country as possible.

“The scoring works by taking the number of stations you work and multiplying that by the number of sections you worked,” Vogt said. “Then there are some other add-ins you can get points for. Some of the bigger club operations, they’ll have six or eight transmitters on at the same time. They really rack up some million-point scores. For us, we’re out here to have a good time.”

Vogt said the United States and Canada or divided into sections, which are based upon the density of ham users in the region. For example, the entire state of Missouri is one section while California is broken up into six sections.

The event began at 1 p.m. on Saturday and ran continuously through 4 p.m. Sunday. Of the 27 hours the event is active, a station can operate for 24 hours. In order to contact as many other stations as possible, Vogt said operators across the country would be working overnight Saturday into Sunday morning.

“That’s when we diehards do it,” Vogt said. “I work my main number of stations early in the morning. The bands quiet down and you lose a lot of the atmospheric noise.”

Eastern Ozark Amateur Radio Club President Jim White said he has only been a licensed ham operator for about five years and became interested after pursuing his interest in communications.

“The majority of us all started with CBs and stuff like that,” White said. “Communications has always been interesting to me — I worked in EMS for a while and I dispatched for Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and a couple of local police departments up north. It’s just a fun hobby.”

In addition to the technical aspect of the hobby, White said the social aspect is an additional draw for him. He said if there is anyone who would like to get into ham radio, the first step would be reaching out to someone who already knows the ropes.

“If they’re interested as a hobby, the first thing I would suggest is getting in touch with someone who’s already in it,” he said. “At least to give them a taste of it and at least see the basics. Quite frankly, this is the best environment to do that in. This is our biggest event of the year.”

In his statement, Isgur mentioned the various aspects of ham radio that can draw individuals toward pursuing it as a hobby.

“Hams can literally throw a wire in a tree for an antenna, connect it to a battery-powered transmitter and communicate halfway around the world,” he said. “Hams do this by using a layer of Earth’s atmosphere as a sort of mirror for radio waves.

“In today’s electronic do-it-yourself (DIY) environment, ham radio remains one of the best ways for people to learn about electronics, physics, meteorology and numerous other scientific disciplines, and is a huge asset to any community during disasters or emergencies if the standard communication infrastructure goes down.”

For more information about the American Radio Relay League, visit www.arrl.org. For more information about the Eastern Ozark Amateur Radio Club, follow the organization or Facebook or contact Vogt at the Bonne Terre Airport at 573-454-1266.

Steve Vogt at last years ham radio event, where he contacted operators from around the country.

Steve Vogt at last years ham radio event, where he contacted operators from around the country.

The Eastern Ozark Amateur Radio Club (pictured above at a 2018 event) will be at the Emergency Preparedness Fair in Ironton. They will demonstrate ham radio operation.

The Eastern Ozark Amateur Radio Club (pictured above at a 2018 event) will be at the Emergency Preparedness Fair in Ironton. They will demonstrate ham radio operation.

Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at jscott@dailyjournalonline.com.

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