WILMOT, NS - Brian DeAthe and Bill Underwood were talking to people across the continent June 23. It wasn’t with telephones, or cell phones, or satellite phones. They used old-fashioned amateur radio.
The two are members of the Greenwood Amateur Radio Club that was set up at the community hall in Wilmot for American Radio Relay Leaque’s annual field day that has ham radio enthusiasts from around North America making contact with each other.
They don’t plug into the local power grid, rather they use generators and batteries to keep communications going. The exercise keeps them sharp.
DeAthe picks up his first contact shortly after the 3 p.m. start time – a fellow amateur radio operator in New Hampshire. DeAthe sits in front of a stack of high-tech-looking gear, hitting buttons and tuning tuners as he zeros in on voices from as far away as California. There’s a lot of static.
“We’re going to attempt to contact as many North American ham radio stations as we can,” said DeAthe after that first contact. “It just shows the viability of ham radio for communications. The more we contact and the further away they are, the more interesting it becomes.”
The 24-hour exercise will keep them fresh and help them operate in abnormal situations in less than optimal conditions, as the ARRL suggests.
Underwood sits in front of a similar station. While it’s the oldest form of radio communication, that doesn’t mean the equipment is old. They have laptops among the gear, hand-held mics and headsets. Digital displays show frequencies as Underwood turns a knob.
“Usually we can hit 30 or 35 states,” DeAthe said of the contacts they make. “It depends on the atmospheric conditions.”
In Wilmot, the weather conditions are forecast to change and that has DeAthe concerned. They will hold the field day for the next 24 hours but there’s rain coming sometime in the night.
“The rain will make a difference because the pressure area does affect it quite a bit,” DeAthe said. “So far the only one I made (contact) was New Hampshire, but I could hear him talking to Manitoba.”
Besides the two stations DeAthe and Underwood are manning, there are a couple of others for visitors to use. DeAthe calls them GOTAs – or Get On The Airs. John Chambers has a portable setup in a suitcase that he can grab in an emergency to help find people. It has a hand-held directional antenna he can move to zero in on signals and a couple of big, square dry cell batteries power it in the field.
DeAthe said Chambers’ signal finder can come in handy in the search for people with personal locators who become lost. It can track down locator beacons or even other radios.
Outside the hall there are two tall poles with wire strung out at the top.
Michael Heimdallson is with the military and he can’t stress enough the value of amateur radio for his personnel.
“I work on the base (14 Wing Greenwood) and our trade works a lot with radios,” said Heimdallson. “All the activities and the learning opportunities of the amateur ham club complements what we learn in the military to a great degree. We do a lot of exercises much like what they’re doing here with the field day and all across the world and all across Canada. They have skills that we need to stay fresh on. So this is a great learning opportunity for all of us.”
Sharla Hunter helps Alvena, a young girl, learn Morse Code, one of the most iconic uses of this type of radio in movies. She taps out the dots and dashes to spell her name as Hunter helps.
“We like to get young people interested,” she said. There are things to colour, word searches using radio terms, challenging crossword puzzles that help you learn all the terminology and everything about radio.
Amateur radio operators can bounce signals off the moon, talk to astronauts on the space station, and talk to other ham radio operators all over the world. In times of trouble, they can keep communications going when all else fails.
Amateur radio is regulated by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, but local clubs like the Greenwood Amateur Radio Club, the Kings County Amateur Radio Club, or the Annapolis Valley Amateur Radio Club are happy to take prospective hams under their wings and help them learn and obtain their licenses.
KCARC and AVARC held a joint field day at the sports field next to the water tower in Port Williams June 23 and 24. Those two clubs recently held a joint disaster simulation exercise and with their recent emphasis on emergency communications, the two clubs collaborated for their field day to enhance their ability to work together in an actual disaster.