A group of ham radio enthusiasts and operators have set up camp in Temperance Park to test their skills with thousands of others across North America in an annual gathering.
The Monroe County Radio Communications Association (MCRCA) hosted many amateur radio operators – known as “hams” – for the annual American Radio Relay League (ARRL) day at Vienna Park on June 25.
According to the ARRL, the event began in 1933 and is the premier annual event for amateur radio enthusiasts. More than 35,000 people attend the event each year, with camper stations set up across the United States and Canada.
The event takes place every fourth weekend in June and officially lasts 24 hours starting at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Participants wear shirts or badges that display their individual call signs, which is common practice among radio amateurs. These call signs are used as legal identifiers for people who use amateur radio communications.
Terry Kolton (call sign N8NYP), who handles communications for the MCRCA, said the hams are uniquely equipped and prepared to keep communication lines open in the face of disasters and power grid outages. However, he added that many people don’t know what hams do.
“Usually when I talk about amateur radio, I get a blank stare,” he said.
Still, he said radio amateurs are everywhere and often involved in charitable and community activities.
“Amateur radio is a hobby, but many of us devote time to public service,” he said.
As well as camaraderie, the event serves as something of a friendly contest to see who can make the most connections with other operators, and methods range from vintage-style morse code to high-tech radio equipment.
Dale Williams (WA8EFK) is the Great Lakes Division Manager for the ARRL. He explained that the meet had several purposes, including practice in emergency situations, as well as light activities such as competition between geographically based sections across North America. Each section gets 1 point for each contact made with another section – or 2 points for contacts made via morse code.
Williams said there is always a designated operator and log manager throughout the event. This makes it possible to track points and document all contacts made.
“Our computers are networked, so we see how others are doing,” he said.
Paul Trouten (W8PI), who attended his first event in 1958, said the busiest time is usually at the start and it starts to slow down a bit after midnight.
“Once we’re set up and running, we’ll be talking on the radio,” he said.
Wes Busdiecker (KC8SKP), who said he has been there for at least 15 years, explained that the activities continued throughout the night.
“There are breaks, but some people run long enough,” he said.
“At 2 a.m. it gets pretty tough,” Williams said.
Still, the band isn’t entirely devoid of certain amenities.
“We have a coffee maker that works 24 hours a day,” Trouten said.
Despite the long hours, the group aims to create an off-grid setting with no standard electrical service, using generators for electricity – as if the electrical grid and other everyday methods of communication were down.
“It’s for emergency planning and preparedness,” Trouten explained.
Keith Hutchinson (KJ8H), on the other hand, said that in addition to more serious prep activities, it’s just plain fun to talk to others no matter the distance.
“I love the thrill of being able to talk to people all over the world,” he said. “Most of them speak English.”
“In a contest, I spoke to 300 people in one day,” he added.
Hutchinson says amateur radio is a great hobby because of its international use and ease of access.
“You can get an education or you can come to a club like ours to get an education to start with,” he said. “There’s so much information out there.”
To obtain a business license and call sign, one must pass a government-issued test. The MCRCA offers these tests as well as a one-day course on the second Saturday of even months.
Jeff Giles (K8OLV) attended the event for the first time. He explained that his professional life has taken him all over the world. Now that he is retired, he sees an opportunity to continue talking to people and learning more about amateur radio by participating alongside long-time participants.
Additionally, Giles said there were much higher implications associated with amateur radio communications.
“In these difficult times, open communication is the path to peace and prosperity on the planet. I want to be part of it.