Once a year, on the fourth weekend in June, more than 35,000 radio amateurs gather with their clubs, groups or simply with friends to operate from remote locations across the United States and Canada. It’s the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Field Day — the single most popular on-the-air event held in the two countries.
The radio amateurs, or hams, practice emergency communications, hold contests and — most of all — have fun. They invite folks of all ages to stop by and get a glimpse of what amateur radio is all about.
Hilo’s annual ARRL Field Day — sponsored by the Big Island Amateur Radio Club, or BIARC — will be held this weekend at the Wailoa Art & Cultural Center at the end of Piopio Street, which is the road immediately makai of Aupuni Street and mauka of Bayside Chevron, at the corner of Pauahi and Kamehameha streets in downtown Hilo.
The event will run from 6 a.m. on Saturday, when volunteers start setting up some of the antennas and other radio equipment, to about 9 a.m. on Sunday, when the cleanup crew returns Wailoa Center to its normal function.
From 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday, amateur radio operators will participate in contests with fellow hams in Hawaii, on the U.S Mainland and in Canada. Each contact between ham operators is logged, and scores are kept in the various competitions. In all of it, the more contacts an operator makes, the better is his or her score for the club.
“There will be possibly other ham stations operating here in the islands. We will have two stations, one on ‘phone’ and the other on CW (Continuous Wave mode, also known as Morse Code),” said Hilo Field Day Chairman Robert Oliver. “Other modes will depend on what equipment other hams may bring to Field Day.” Some antennas may be put up later in the day for nighttime use. All contacts will be done in a wireless manner, sent and received via the ionosphere.
Oliver said the basic band-plan station rigs to be set up for Field Day will be a Yaesu 857D radio and an ICOM 706MK2G.
Here’s the Hilo Field Day schedule:
— 6 a.m.: Setup begins for two antenna systems, a Log Periodic antenna and a Tri-Band Yagi Beam;
— 8 a.m.: Contesting begins over 10-, 6- and 2-meter frequencies on one radio, and on 15- and 20-meter frequencies on the second;
— Noon to 1 p.m.: Lunch break;
— 1 p.m.: Testing sessions begin for all levels of amateur radio licenses issued by the Federal Communications Commission (for details, please contact Milt Nodacker at 965-6471);
— 2 p.m.: Antenna setup begins for nighttime contesting — an 80-meter Long Wire and a 40- and 80-meter Trap Antenna;
— 5 p.m.: Potluck dinner for operators, BIARC members and guests;
— 7 p.m.: Contesting begins on 40 meters and 20 meters;
— 2 a.m.: Contesting begins on 40 meters and 80 meters, with radio operations continuing past dawn, and
— 8 a.m.: Radio operations cease; the contesting logs are turned in and the antennas come down until next year.
Parents are encouraged to bring children. There’s no age limit to becoming a ham. Girls and boys as young as age 6 have passed the initial exam and gotten on the air.
“The club invites people to come and see ham radio’s capabilities and learn how to get their own FCC Amateur Radio license,” said Oliver. “Interested people will be given the opportunity to try operating the radio transceivers on the air with supervision.
“Field Day is a time where many aspects of amateur radio come together to highlight our many roles. While some treat it as a contest, others use the opportunity to practice their emergency response capabilities. The contest part is simply to contact as many other stations as possible and to learn to operate our radio gear in abnormal situations and less-than-optimal conditions,” explained Oliver.
“We use these same skills when we help with events such as marathons and walk-a-thons, fund-raisers and celebrations such as parades and fairs. These are all large, preplanned, non-emergency activities.
“But despite the development of very complex, modern communications systems — or maybe because they are so complex — ham radio has been called into action again and again to provide communications in crises when it really matters. Amateur radio people are well known for our communications support in real disaster and post-disaster situations,” he said.
ARRL is the 150,000-plus member national association for amateur radio in the U.S.
The Amateur Radio Service has been around for a century. In that time, it’s grown into a worldwide community of licensed operators using the airwaves with every conceivable means of communications technology. Its people range in age from youngsters to grandparents. Even rocket scientists and a rock star or two are in the ham ranks.
“Most, however, are just normal folks like you and me who enjoy learning and being able to transmit voice, data and pictures through the air to unusual places, both near and far, without depending on commercial systems,” said Oliver. “The amateur radio frequencies are the last remaining place in the usable radio spectrum where you as an individual can develop and experiment with wireless communications. Hams not only can make and modify their equipment, but can create whole new ways to do things.” Visit www.arrl.org.
For the younger generation, the ARRL — in East Hawaii, again courtesy of BIARC — offers Kids Day activities twice a year to promote amateur radio to keiki. The events are held in January and June. For details on the next Kids Day, please visit the BIARC website, www.biarc.net, toward the end of this year.