Ham operators prepare for a time they may radio for help

June 29, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

LEITERSBURG - While many people rely on high-tech equipment such as cell phones and computers for communication these days, there's nothing like the old standby of a short-wave radio.

That's the theory behind the American Radio Relay League's annual Field Day.

Short-wave radios can run on little power and their signals can travel great distances, which makes them ideal in an emergency.

Field Day is all about making sure the nation's ham radios - and their operators - are ready to be called up in a disaster.


Clubs and individuals from all over the country compete for how well they can contact their fellow ham radio operators.

They get extra points for using solar power and Morse code and for tuning in on low-frequency bands.

They even get points when this story appears in the paper.

Antietam Radio Association set up their antennas at Leitersburg Ruritan Park on Saturday in the 27-hour marathon session.

"The challenge is making the contact," said club President Herman Niedzielski of Leitersburg.

Joe Lockbaum, 62, of Mercersburg, Pa., has an impressive setup. He gets extra points for using solar panels to power his radio and communicating via Morse code.

Dave Garrett, 41, and Jim Stanicek, 35, of Hagerstown had a laid-back attitude toward the event. They had their radios on a table under a tent in the shade. Among their equipment were coolers of food and drinks.

"Gotta have your bag of chips, chips and soda," Stanicek said.

Garrett worked the radio, exchanging call letters with hams as far away as New Hampshire, while his son, David Garrett II, 13, logged the contacts on a computer.

Members are all using the club's call sign, W3CWC, or "whiskey three charlie whiskey charlie."

Stanicek can hear someone from Lima, Peru, but the man is talking to someone else so he politely doesn't break into the conversation.

Stanicek said the chatter would grow as the sun went down because sunspots disrupt transmission of the radio waves.

Karin Christensen, 39, of Boonsboro, is fairly new to the hobby. She learned for her job as a telecommunications specialist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

"The more you learn, the more you realize the less you know," she said.

Field Day helps ham radio operators practice what it's like to go into the field and simulate an emergency, Niedzielski said.

Last year, Washington County Fire and Rescue Communications used club members as backup while its auxiliary power generator was being replaced.

Club members also set up along the 50-mile route for the John F. Kennedy Ultramarathon every year to help coordinate the event, he said.

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