McHenry Co. ham radio enthusiasts have a field day
Amateur radio enthusiasts participated in the 10th annual McHenry County Wireless Association Field Day June 23 and 24 at the McHenry County Government Center. Sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, ham operator Jim Rospopo said the event was held primarily to test the emergency service system and introduce interested people to amateur radio.
“A lot of people do it for a hobby [as it has many forms] including digital, [text], voice and morse code,” said Rospopo.
“But people really like to do it for the public service and disaster aspects.”
When disaster strikes and reliable forms of emergency communication fail, ham radio will be there to save the day. Ham radio, otherwise known as amateur or shortwave radio, was developed in the late 1800s as an experiment in radio broadcasting. Ham radio uses a variety of radio frequency techniques wherein operators use signals for private recreational purposes, non-commercial message exchanges, wireless experimentation and most importantly, emergency communication.
Rospopo said morse code using ham radio has been used in past events such as communication with the Titanic in 1912 while it was sinking, during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and in times of environmental attacks from tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis.
“Amateur radio is a stop-gap measure taken until all other forms of [interrupted] communication come back up,” said Rospopo.
In order to become an amateur radio operator, people must enroll in a class that tests on key concepts in electronics and government regulations. Users will learn how to access a variety of data communication modes and allocations throughout the radio frequency spectrum. There are three classes of ham operator ranging from beginner to expert, and users must be licensed in whatever class they practice.
Operators at the wireless field day demonstrated their capabilities, showcased equipment, provided information on obtaining a license and shared their enthusiasm for ham radio with the public.
“Some people buy boats. Others buy cars. I buy big antennas,” said volunteer Doug Phelps.
After setting up antenna towers 20 to 30 feet tall, the radio operators conducted a series of techniques geared toward making contact with operators around the United States as well as internationally.
“We made 1,559 contacts, 14 satellite contacts and communication with 49 of the 50 states,” said Rospopo. “We only missed Delaware. [But] we did make one contact with Alaska, which is very rare, and with Germany.”
There was also a station set up to enable newcomers to get on the air.
“Twenty volunteer amateur radio operators, interested members of the public and four County Board members showed up,” said Rospopo.
“I want to thank the board members [Diane Evertsen, Tina Hill, Paula Yensen and Mary McCann] for coming out,” he said. “It’s good for them to know what the communication abilities are in the county.”
Rospopo said amateur radio experts also involve themselves with projects such as “Earth, Moon, Earth,” wherein signals are bounced off the moon, and meteorite scanning, where operators bounce signals off meteorites.
“We do more exotic stuff [too].”
More than 700,000 amateur radio operators exist in the United States, with around 700 based in McHenry County.
“We are very fortunate in the United States. Our government has not clamped down on amateur radio as it has in some other countries,” said Rospopo.
He stressed the most important thing he wanted community members to remember was to be prepared for times of disaster. He suggested always having an AM/FM radio on hand in case mainline communication breaks down.
“When all else fails, amateur radio will be there.”
For information, call 815-338-6400 or visit www.arrl.org.