Archive for Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Ham radio operators rech out to world

June 30, 2004

Ric Nelson reached for the pencil as he listened to the tapping sounds coming from his short wave radio.

Within seconds he translated the dots and dashes into letters of the alphabet. He noted the sender's location was "-- -- -- ....", which translates into "OH," the abbreviation for Ohio.

Nelson tapped a reply to the Ohio ham radio operator, and added that contact to his list.

It was one of dozens of contacts he and others made during the ham radio operators' annual chance to test their abilities during emergencies.

Again this year, members of Pilot Knob Amateur Radio Club chose Tonganoxie's VFW Memorial Park as the site to participate in the national annual field day emergency preparedness exercise. The 24-hour function started at noon Saturday.

Field Day is designed to test ham radio operators' skills at using their radios without electricity.

During a 24-hour period, the goal is for the operators to make contact with as many radio operators around the world as possible. While doing so they're relying on batteries or generators to keep their equipment operating.

Not all the 31 radio operators who participated used Morse Code. Some spoke to their contacts, and others talked through computers connected to the radios.

While Saturday started out as the best weather the club has ever had during its field day, things changed on Sunday. About 5:30 a.m., rain came, with the drizzly clouds socking in until about noon.

For operators such as Nelson, whose equipment was in Robert "Mac" McConnell's camper trailer, all was dry. Nelson has been event coordinator for the field day for the past three years.

But for those who were set up in tents, including Rick Reichert, the event ended early.

"My tent started to leak, so I folded it up," said Reichert, who stopped by Nelson's trailer Sunday morning. He had just finished putting away his camping gear, and despite the fact he wore a rain jacket, his clothes were dripping wet.

Reichert had brought along his mobile weather station, and a GPS unit, which allowed Tonganoxie's weather to be posted on the Internet during the event.

But he had a sheepish grin as he noted Sunday's weather was nothing to brag about.

"So my friends in Virginia should be able to look on the Internet and find out that I'm soaking wet," Reichert said.

Among those participating in the weekend event were Paul and Susan Backs, children, Rebecca, 14, and Nathan, 17. Paul Backs is president of the Pilot Knob club. Rebecca's friend, Amber Moppin, also helped out.

The Leavenworth family took amateur radio classes together several years ago.

Paul Backs praised Nelson for the weekend's smooth operations.

"This is phenomenal that we can sit here for 24 hours, everyone is working round the clock on emergency power and talking literally across the U.S. and around the world," Backs said. "What a grand capability for homeland security -- they can knock out virtually every means of communications that there is and we don't have to use smoke signals."

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