Moosehorn Amateur Radio Club tests capabilities

For 24 hours, they prepared for the worst.


The object: to connect with as many stations as possible on all amateur radio bands, test their equipment, make new contacts and test out their mobile capabilities.

For the National Association for Amateur Radio's annual "Field Day," the Soldotna-based Moosehorn Amateur Radio Club set up an emergency camp Saturday in the parking lot of Skyview High School.

"This is the time of year we get out and we figure out what works and what doesn't work," said Larry Halvarson, of Soldotna. "Typically it's hardware, like we had the shorted antennae out there. So you go out and fix the problem so you can communicate."

Halvarson said he has been a ham radio operator for 34 years, his preferred method of communication is Morse code and as his fingers flew on the key pad, the signature staccato beeps filled the club's trailer Saturday afternoon.

He slipped his large black headphones off of his ears as he talked about why he used code instead of using a verbal call.

"It's pretty much my preferred mode. Morse Code is my favorite," he said. "There's still a lot of activity on the bands even though the requirement is not there for Morse Code or knowing Morse Code. You can generally get through a little bit better than you can other modes."

Halvarson said he'd learned the code in the mid-1950s to earn a merit badge when he was a Boy Scout.

"If you learned the whole Morse Code to the point where somebody could say 'OK, what's the letter R?' and you go 'dit-dot-dit' and I think it was, if you knew the whole Morse Code, or if you knew at least most of the code, they would give you credit," he said. "I think it was called the radio merit badge."

The communication conditions weren't good Saturday afternoon. Halvarson and Soldotna operator George Van Lone had trouble reaching people in Lower 48.

"Everything is a very weak signal and it's dropping down and coming back up," Halvarson said. "It's the wrong time of the day."

Despite the weak signal, Halvarson still managed to log contact with someone in Puerto Rico.

"That's what, probably 4,000 miles from here?" he said.

According to the National Association for Amateur Radio, more than 35,000 people tune in for "Field Day" every year and more than 700,000 people are licensed to operate ham radios in the United States.

Van Lone said there weren't a lot of operators "stateside" who pointed their antenna at Alaska.

"We're pointed at them, but they don't point at us," Van Lone said. "What they're doing is pointing east or west or south and we're coming in on the back of their beam."

Still, Van Lone made contact with New Mexico, Michigan, Oregon and Illinois in his first couple of hours of operation.

"I think Michigan swung my way so he could hear us," Van Lone said. "I could hear him, but he couldn't hear me very well so what he did was swung his beam to me then picked it up."

Each contact members of the club made was logged in the system as part of the field day contest to see how many contacts each club made.

Signal contacts, like Halvarson's Morse Code, netted the club double points -- although he was quick to point out that there were no prizes awarded.

"It's a lot of fun," Halvarson said. "Everybody gets out, it's a big event that draws everybody in; a lot of fun; a lot of food; a lot of jokes and it's a lot of just getting familiar with the equipment, how they operate, what works and what doesn't work."


Editor's Note: A cutline was edited to correctly identify one of the Moosehorn Amateur Radio Club members

Rashah McChesney can be reached at