SIBLEY, Iowa — Set up in a small black tent near Hawkeye Point, several amateur radio enthusiasts took part in the annual American Radio Relay League Field Day on Saturday. Beginning in 1933, the event has grown today to over 40,000 amateur radio operators across North America building temporary transmitting stations in public locations during the 24-hour event.
“It’s kind of an open house so that radio amateurs can get out and see what things are like and what we’re doing and… get a feel for what amateur radio is,” explained Mike Anderson, president of the Northwest. Iowa Amateur Radio Club. “At the same time, it’s also a national and international contest where we try to contact as many people in 24 hours as possible in other countries and across the United States.”
Over the past few days on the court, Anderson has reached out to people in Russia, Slovenia and Puerto Rico, to name a few. It’s an event he calls incredibly widespread and a great opportunity for newcomers to the hobby to really see what it’s all about. With his configuration, containing a battery he built himself, it is even possible for Anderson to contact the International Space Station.
In addition to being a competition and an “open day,” field day is also an opportunity for radio amateurs – or amateur radio operators – to test both their skills and their equipment in the field.
“We pull out all of our portable gear,” Anderson said, gesturing to the table laden with a laptop, battery box, radio and more. “And part of it is being prepared in case there’s an emergency or something where we need to come in and be able to contact because the phone lines are down and so forth, that we’ll be able to help and do pass messages to people and call for help.
Anderson got into radio about three years ago and has since obtained his General License, which grants certain operating privileges on all amateur radio bands and modes of operation and opens the door to global communications. This is the second level of license available, which Anderson has taken a written exam and answered the questions to obtain. Anyone can get a license, as long as they pass the exam and understand the material, Anderson said.
“The radio is a lot,” he adds. “It’s the study of weather, math, electronics, space, you know, with satellites and so on. I mean, there’s a niche for almost everyone’s interest.