Ted’s essays

Field Day 2014

Amateur radio operators

preparing for weekend event

When the power goes out, often amateur radio operators have the only reliable means of communication. They are prepared with generators, solar power, radios, antennas and training.

Amateur Radio Field Day is a coordinated effort for all amateur radio operators in the United States and Canada. Bitterroot Valley radio operators have created a local event for the community to participate, watch and challenge.

Jim Brummit lives on the west side of the valley just north of Corvallis. He has a background in electronics and amateur radio is a hobby and a way of life. He looks forward to the contest this weekend.

“It’s a contest to establish communications,” said Brummit. “The object is to prepare you for an emergency situation. We go out into the field and set up our own power and our radios and make contacts and relay information. It is our annual emergency communications drill.”

The term ‘ham,’ as in ham radio operator, has several origins.

Brummit said radio history began with Morse code and each operator had a particular style called a fist. A good code operator was quick and accurate. The expression of a ‘ham’ refereed to an operator with sloppy skills and also with those overusing the available air waves.

“When we got the voice on the air, everyone was competing with the same frequency so when commercial people were trying to communicate with ships out at sea and other radio operators were interfering, they would say, ‘Stop hamming the frequency up,’ ” he said. “Originally derogatory, it is now used by amateur operators with a sense of pride.”

In the Bitterroot Valley, there are over 300 ham radio operators. Brummit said a lot are inactive, but some are very active and highly competitive.

“Every third weekend in June, we hold this emergency drill, we set up a temporary radio and establish contact with other operators far away. The American Radio Organization turned it into a contest.”

Points are earned for using solar and generator power and how far away and how many contacts are made.

“Each successful communication is a point,” said Brummit. “We try to get kids interested in it – they are attached to their cell phone they don’t realize that’s the first thing that will fail in an emergency. The Bitterroot American Radio Club’s goal is to demonstrate our abilities to the public and to check communications and make sure our equipment is working.”

The radio operators set up just south of Darby, at the Logger Days activities.

“You can’t miss us, we’ll have camping trailers, antennas and a lot of commotion,” said Brummit.

“Bring the kids to participate with experienced hams in making contacts around the world in this 24-hour national event, tap out your name in Morse code and talk to someone in another country.”

Brummit has made contact with Italy and Japan and he “almost had Romania once.”

There will be a contest for anyone with speedy texting skills to see if they can type faster than a radio operator using Morse code.

“The event is ‘thumbs versus fists’ to see which is faster at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., on Saturday,” said Brummit. “Some people think they can send 20 words per minute, fast coders can do 30 words per minute – at that speed they are copying whole words.”

They will also teach how amateur radios will work in an emergency or disaster when cell phones will not.

Bitterroot Amateur Emergency Radio (BEAR) has formed to prepare for emergencies.

“We are putting it together right now and we’re physically training, so if the local county emergency responders request our services we’ll be ready to go,” said Brummit.

This weekend there will also be the opportunity to sign up for licensing classes. Brummit is one of the teachers. He is an “extra class” licensed radio operator, call sign N0XPO – the number denotes area.

“November Zero X-ray Papa Oscar,” he said. “When I retired I moved to nice quiet place, I couldn’t take all the people in Denver. I should have upgraded my call, but I liked it so I kept it.”

To become licensed, study the books and attend classes then take a test from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The first license book by the American Radio Relay League covers: basic electronics, signals and waves (how frequencies work – wave length equals distance), bands, how to filter noise, antennas, rules and regulations, organizations and in the back are the study questions.

Here are some other interesting tidbits from Brummit: Hams developed high frequency communications and cell phones – they receive on one frequency and send on another; there is a special frequency for model remote control airplanes; they are working on developing their own Internet; and they have a news show Wednesday nights. At 7 p.m., tune scanner to 146.580, at 8 p.m., 146.720 for the Bitterroot Hams and at 9 p.m. tune scanner to 147.040 for Hellgate news.

“Depending on what you want to do – just about everything is done on ham radio,” said Brummit.

For more information call him at 961-1323 or via ham radio at N0XPO.