Ham radio event set for June 25, 26

Published 12:02 am Friday, June 17, 2011

Those wanting to know more about what amateur ham radio operators are invited to come watch as the local South Alabama Radio Club participates in the nationwide field day June 25 and 26.

Bob Lawrence, SARC member, said local “hams” will join with thousands of amateur radio operators during the weekend event to practice their emergency capabilities.

“The goal of the event is to contact as many states in a 24-hour period as possible – an emergency exercise,” Lawrence said. “We will operate overnight from 1 p.m. Saturday to 1 p.m. on Sunday using only batteries and generators to power our radios.”

Lawrence said “hams” provide critical communications during unexpected emergencies and natural disasters.

“When all else fails – regular telephone, cell phones, computers – ham radios work,” he said. “And in times of emergency, communication is key.

“We tell people all we need is a piece of wire, a car battery and a radio to talk,” he said. “(The event allows operators to) show people that we can do more than just transmit a voice. We use Morse Code. We can even transmit a digital signal. Sometimes we can get lucky and catch a satellite passing by. It’s very interesting to see the process.

“We jokingly say ham radio operators came up with text messaging first,” he said.

The annual field day is the climax of the weeklong “Amateur Radio Week,” which is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for amateur radio.

There are more than 650,000 amateur ham radio licenses nationwide. In Covington County, there are 91 licensed operators, Brown said. Of those, half are active in the event, as well as in providing radio services.

During Hurricane Opal, ham radios were the only means of communication available locally to emergency personnel, law enforcement and emergency management officials.

“It was the only way we had to get information in and out of Covington County to the people (at the state EMA center),” Lawrence said.

Next weekend’s local event will give the public an up-close view of what it took – and still takes – to provide this emergency service, he said.

This year’s event will feature two sites – at the Sweet Home Alabama Campground, formerly known as the Pt. A Campground and a site off Padgett Road.