Ham operators hone their skills during national field exercises


HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. — Ted Vincent carefully fine-tuned a radio as static ebbed and flowed from his receiver.

An antenna — a transmission wire suspended from two tall poles he put up earlier that day — is less than 50 feet away. The afternoon sun beat down on a small solar array.

He again announced a call sign into the microphone: "K2, Foxtrot, Charlie, Romeo." A brief pause and then a voice identified itself as coming from Ohio.

Vincent was one of eight control operators of a Hoosick Falls, N.Y.-based amateur radio club who took part in the national field exercises on Saturday.

Ham radio operators, or "hams," practiced rapid deployment of radio communications equipment nationwide during the American Radio Relay League's (ARRL) Field Day.

Hams are encouraged to use alternate power sources to demonstrate how it can be used during an emergency. Vincent said in the event of a natural disaster, severe weather or something catastrophic, setups like his could be a critical asset.

"This will keep running long after cell phones stop," he said.

Members said ham radio operators are called upon during natural disasters like tornados and have organized themselves to relay information across distances when other communications go down.

"And most of all, it's fun," said member Mike Benoit.

The K2FCR Cornerstone Fellowship Radio Club members set up on Johnsonville Road at the home of Benoit, pastor for the Cornerstone Fellowship Church. Members were eager to show the public about the technology that's been in use since the 1930s. There are still more than 720,000 licensed operators in the country and more than 2,000 clubs took part in the event.

Under a hot, near-cloudless sky were four 20-watt photovoltaic panels connected in a series. They were connected to two deep-cycle marine batteries; Vincent described them as "the buffer" that would give him time to run his transmitter and receiver equipment. He only uses home electricity for a laptop to find and log other hams. The goal during field day is to log as many "contacts," or control operators, as possible.

There's three sequential levels of licenses that denote different privileges and access to radio bands. The technician class is the entry level — think of it as the "learner's permit." Next comes the general. And the highest is the extra class.

The license exams have a pool of questions from which to choose. There are lots of online resources, said member John Dyson, who's studying for his general license.

"But just by talking to other people, you learn a lot," he said.

There's still a good amount of trial and error involved beyond what equipment you have.

"The time of day, the weather, sunspots, solar flares," Vincent said. "It can really depend on the atmospheric conditions."

But on a good day, you can communicate with people from hundreds of miles away, he said.

Tim Colaneri got his technician license two years ago and started using some second-hand equipment.

"The more you try, the more you learn," he said.

Vincent said that, after nearly 25 years, he's still learning.

"I've only scratched the surface."

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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