June 22, 2005
On Friday, June 24, ham radio enthusiasts from all over the Gorge will descend upon the Wal-Mart parking lot to set up camp for Field Day, an annual two-day event.
Field Day, which always takes place the fourth full weekend of June, is an international event that has been happening for more than 50 years.
“It’s the biggest event in the avocation,” said Dick Frost, Field Day chairman and member of the local ham radio group Radio Amateurs of the Gorge. “What we’re going to do is operate a station without a commercial power source. We’ll set up a communication station from scratch and operate for 24 hours.”
This event, aside from seeing how many contacts can be made, is actually a training exercise to see if the operators can function in the event of an emergency. “We’re mandated by Congress to be able to operate in an emergency or natural disaster that wipes out communications,” Frost said.
“There’s no organized backup for the phone system,” said Terry Shellman, another member of Radio Amateurs of the Gorge. “It requires people to be involved. It’s a real need, and people need to realize that need. It’s a small commitment.”
But in addition to all that, the Radio Amateurs of the Gorge hope that this event will spark interest in the community and bring people back to the hobby. “That’s why we’re doing it at Wal-Mart,” Frost said. “We hope that a lot of people will see it.”
Frost also noted that the average age of hams is approaching sixty, and he hopes to get a new generation involved. “We never have enough operators,” he said, “but we have to make do with what we do have.”
Most prospective hams are daunted by the technology, but free classes are offered to help those new to amateur radio pass the licensing exam. “Most people are scared of Morse code, too,” said Shellman. “But it’s not even required for the lowest level, and the fastest required for any level of operation is five words per minute. That works out to about two-and-a-half seconds for each letter,” he said.
Ham radio is also utilized for many community events. “We communicate during the cross-channel swim, bike races and even the Gorge Games,” Frost said. “It’s completely volunteer work, but it’s important.”
Radio Amateurs of the Gorge has tried in the past to sponsor a class through Community Education, but the class was canceled due to lack of enrollment. Frost and Shellman hope that this Field Day will provide the boost needed to interest the public once more in amateur radio.
Field Day will take place all day Saturday in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The public is welcome and invited to come see what amateur radio is all about.