Radio ‘hams’ display improv skills in Portsmouth

Rob White, a Webelos den leader, helps 9-year-old Gavin Craig of Cub Scout Pack 77 make a contact during Field Day at Glen Park Sunday morning. Gavin eventually found someone in South Florida who answered him back. Photo by Jim McGaw. Rob White, a Webelos den leader, helps 9-year-old Gavin Craig of Cub Scout Pack 77 make a contact during Field Day at Glen Park Sunday morning. Gavin eventually found someone in South Florida who answered him back. Photo by Jim McGaw.

PORTSMOUTH — Ham radio operators had to do a little improvising over the weekend.

But that’s what they do best, according to Bob Beatty, public information officer for the Newport County Radio Club.

Amateur radio enthusiasts from around the local area descended on Glen Park Saturday and Sunday to participate in Field Day, an annual event in which thousands of hams nationwide show off emergency capabilities in a non-stop, 24-hour period. Amateur radio operators provide backup communications for everything from the American Red Cross to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In the past the event has been held in the main section of Glen Park, but due to a scheduling conflict it had to be moved to a field further east on Glen Road, at the corner of Frank Coelho Drive.

Rather than moan about the unfamiliar surroundings, however, club members used it as an opportunity to strut their stuff.

“It’s good because it changed things up for us,” Mr. Beatty said Sunday morning. “It’s a different location, so if had gone back to the same place we would have done the same thing we did last time — use the same trees for antennae supports. It would actually have made our life a lot easier, but the advantage to this is that it was a totally different situation. We had to have four of the antennae towers because we don’t have tall trees in this part of the park. More stuff had to be erected and put up, but that’s good because it kind of keeps you on your toes.”

The move also attracted the attention of neighbors since the setup — unlike in past years — was plainly visible from Glen Road, said Mr. Beatty, noting that a big part of Field Day is introducing members of the public to amateur radio.

“I think we’re a little more exposed so we’ve had a lot more members of the public who have come by, which has been really good,” he said. “We actually had a woman stop by last night who chatted for a little bit. This morning, darned if she didn’t pick a bunch of fresh strawberries and baked chocolate chip cookies for us. It was a little taste of heaven. The neighbors were all interested, and very friendly.”

Avery Duehring, 9, tries to make contact with another amateur radio operator Sunday at Glen Park. Avery’s a member of Cub Scout Pack 77.  Photo by Jim McGaw

Avery Duehring, 9, tries to make contact with another amateur radio operator Sunday at Glen Park. Avery’s a member of Cub Scout Pack 77. Photo by Jim McGaw

This year, the club put extra emphasis on the “get on the air tent,” which gives any member of the public the opportunity to try their hand at making contacts. This year, several Cub Scouts tuned in to earn points toward their radio merit badges.

Webelos den leader Rob White was showing Gavin Craig and Avery Duehring, both 9-year-olds from Cub Scout Pack 77, the basics in how to make radio contact with someone else.

First you say “CQ,” which means “I seek you.” After that, Gavin kept repeating “Whiskey One Sierra Yankee Echo” — representing W1SYE, the call sign for the Newport County Radio Club. After several attempts, Gavin managed to find someone in South Florida.

The Scouts’ participation is heartening to see, said Mr. Beatty.

“It’s kind of the future of ham radio. We’re trying to capture the imagination of young kids,” he said, adding that about 300,000 Boy Scouts participate in Jamboree on the Air, an October event in which the club is also involved.

Friendly contest

While Field Day’s main purpose is to promote and demonstrate the role of amateur radio operators in emergency situations, it also serves as a friendly contest between hams who attempt to make as many contacts as they can.

Although the weather could not have been better this year, radio conditions were down, Mr. Beatty said.

“It varies with the sunspots in the solar cycle, which is an 11-year kind of pattern and we’re on the downside slope now. It will bottom out in about five years from now,” he said.

Still, there are typically a quarter of a million contacts in a 24-hour period between the 2,500 or so locations nationwide, he said.

“The contest part of it makes it fun for the hams, but the real objective is to be a training exercise,” said Mr. Beatty. “If you’ve had a horrible hurricane and your cell phone towers are down and power’s out, we’re entirely self-sufficient. We’re making our own power here, we’re using some solar stuff as well. We’re contacting people all over North America with ease. It’s a chance for us to practice those skills and say, ‘Hey, if something bad happens we would be there and ready.’”

The reality is, he said, it would cost the federal government a billion dollars annually to provide the same service.

“For us, this is a hobby.”

For more information about the Newport County Radio Club, click here.

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