Members of the Moosehorn Amateur Radio Club will spend this weekend hoisting up towers and antennas, maintaining their own power generation, dealing with last-minute glitches and listening to hours of static seeking out signals from "hams" all over the country doing exactly the same thing.
Sound like fun? You bet!
"You have to be a ham to understand," said club President Larry Halvarson.
Area radio enthusiasts will take part in the Annual Field Day Competition, in which contact is made with other clubs and individuals across the United States and Canada operating everywhere from supermarket parking lots using generator power to remote mountain tops using batteries. It's sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, which is a national association for amateur radio. The goal is to contact as many other participants as possible in as many states and provinces as possible.
"It's a great time for getting together with ham buddies," Halvarson said. The public is invited to view the operations and learn more about Amateur Radio.
It also is a serious exercise in emergency preparedness, for which ham radio is well known. Even with the ubiquitous cell phone and Internet, ham radio still plays a key role in everything from earthquakes to plane crashes, forest fires and search and rescue operations. During the 1964 Alaska Earthquake, hams gained wide attention by providing a critical link to the rest of the world. They also have provided vital communications during the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Public service is a key reason the federal government allows licensed operators to utilize valuable radio frequencies. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management works closely with the club and even provides a mobile communication van, which will be used during the 24-hour operation. "Not only is it a shakedown of equipment and skills, it's a time to try new ideas, see what works and what doesn't," Halvarson said.
Historically radio hams have taken the lead in developing new technology. Most recently this "technical talent pool" has developed new modes of digital communications, designed software and bounced signals off the moon and even meteors. They've also developed a system of communication satellites. Their use will be demonstrated at the site. An amateur television station also will be displayed during field day.
Amateur Radio does not have to be expensive.
"It can be as complex or as simple as one wants," Halvarson said.
Some hams enjoy using low-power radios, relying on efficient antennas and operating skills to communicate over great distances. Some enjoy operating mobile from their car. Still others like to build their own equipment from scratch or prepackaged kits. The sky is the limit. There are those with more elaborate high power stations. Many make extensive use of computers and the Internet. Knowledge of Morse code still is mandated for some classes of license but the required speed was recently reduced down to only five words per minute. A surprising number of hams prefer the code and use it exclusively.
Halvarson said he's been interested in radio ever since working on a merit badge in the Boy Scouts. Even before that, he remembers listing to shortwave RCA Victrola at the age of 5. His home in Soldotna now has a room that's full of the latest radio and computer technology.
Besides a serious test of skills, field day also is an opportunity to demonstrate the hobby to the public, answer questions and assist those who may want to become involved. It's also a time of camaraderie for those involved in what, for some, is a life-long avocation. Here in this area they range from age 11 on up to 70-something.
Operations begin at 10 a.m. Saturday in the parking lot at Skyview High School. For more information, call Larry Halvarson at 262-5030.
Jim Heim is a Kenai resident and member of the Moosehorn Amateur Radio Club.
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