Field Day! Field Day!
After 34 years in ham radio, I still look forward to Field Day, the contest and social event where radio voices mingle with the sound of generators, camaraderie and (if you're lucky) the wafting scent of burgers and hot dogs on the grill.
The concept is simple: ham operators - working mostly off the grid - compete with other operators in the U.S and Canada to rack up contacts, sharpen their skills and show the public what amateur radio is all about. Most stations use generators or batteries, some stay on commercial power, while a brave few try something more exotic, like solar or wind power.
|W1AMJ at Waterbury (CT) Amateur|
Radio Club Field Day.
Field Day is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, the prime mover and shaker in the ham radio hobby. The ARRL maintains a Field Day registry website, and 1200 ham groups have already signed on for this year's competition, the weekend of June 24-25. Use the above link find a site near you, then stop by for a firsthand look at ham radio in progress.
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I think Field Day - and ham radio in general - doesn’t hold the mystique and prestige that it once did. My recollections go back a long way, because my dad was a ham operator in the '50s and '60s – in fact, he was (as far as I know) the original W1AMJ.
On the last weekend in June, he and his ham friends would haul their radios and antennas to Bethlehem, Connecticut and set up operations as part of the Hen House Gang ham radio Field Day. I never went with them, but looking back, I really wish I had for the sake of nostalgia. I remember that my dad was missing for a day or two, and my mother said he was “with the ham radio guys” for the weekend.
|Les, KB1SL at Waterbury|
Amateur Radio Club Field Day.
Ham radio was really a measure of technical skill and prowess in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Radios were big, bulky, tube-driven and drifty and hams repaired their own equipment, even at the risk of a high voltage zap. It was a challenge and a privilege to become a ham operator, and hams were usually the communications arm of local and state civil defense. There were no FEMA courses, CERT teams or ARES groups, which were still several decades away.
Then the '70s and ‘80s happened. Ham radio was miniaturized – on its way to being micronized - and operators no longer had to change tubes, solder components or build anything - unless they wanted to. The whiz-bang factor still existed because it was possible to talk to the other side of the world without using a telephone, and to make phone calls from a car using the autopatch feature on two meter repeaters.
|A Yaesu FT-950 at W1LAS, the|
club station of the WARC.
The Internet was born and raised in the 1990s, and the excitement of ham radio declined a lot in the public eye. Now, in 2017, it’s very hard to pitch the radio hobby to young people, or for that matter, to anyone with a computer and the power of digital communication at their fingertips. The whiz-bang factor has left the building.
Still and all, amateur radio survives and even thrives on some levels. The entry-point Technician license is very popular, and one reason for that is ARES, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, which has attracted people interested in emergency communications in their home towns. Many Technicians never venture outside of FM repeaters, so Field Day offers the chance to try the HF bands, compete with static, fading, noise and interference - my kind of radio!