06/27/10 — Hamming it up

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Hamming it up

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 27, 2010 1:50 AM

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Troy Herring

Roger Smith, 63, who has been an amateur radio operator since the age of 12, uses Morse Code to connect with other amateur radio operators throughout the world during Field Day. The event, takes place the last week of June and features groups of amateur radio operators from all over the world competing to see who can connect to the most operator stations in the span of 24 hours while working under complicated situations, such as using make-shift equipment and power.

Roger Smith's small enclosed trailer and Albert Lioen's tent were separated by less than 100 feet, but the methods they were using to communicate with the world were separated by almost 160 years.

Smith was transmitting by Morse Code, a system first used in the 1840's, while Lioen was utilizing a satellite digital communications system.

They were two of about six stations set up in front of Greenwood Middle School to demonstrate how amateur, or ham radio operators, can communicate worldwide even when other systems have failed.

The stations were set up by members of the Wayne County Amateur Radio Association for the American Radio Relay League's annual Field Day.

The day concludes the week-long ARRL Amateur Radio Week.

Using only emergency power supplies, generators or even batteries, ham operators set up emergency stations in parks, shopping malls, schools and backyards across the country during the Field Day.

The ARRL slogan is that, "when all else fails, ham radio works."

"It (Wayne County Amateur Radio Association) was founded in 1947 so it is a very old county function," said Pete Wene, association president. "Currently we have about 28 members. We are operating what we call Field Day which is an ARRL sponsored yearly event.

"The last full weekend in June, we operate under what they call field conditions or emergency conditions. We don't have any fixed facilities we run off of generators. We string up antennas in trees and we just operate for a 24-hour period. We could just come out here and work with regular wire (antennas). It doesn't matter. You can work the world on amateur radio using low power and just a wire antenna."

Wene, who is retired from the military, became involved with amateur radio in 1981 while stationed in South Korea. Wene has been associated with the local club since 1985.

"It is not only testing our ability to operate under adverse conditions or less than optimal conditions, we make contact with every station that we possibly can," he said. "We log that and we get points for it. ARRL will list those clubs or associations or individuals that make the most contacts and have the most points. We actually get 100 points for you (reporter) coming out here.

"We will stay the night because we operate continuously for 24 hours. We work from 2 p.m. EST Saturday until 2 on Sunday afternoon."

It is the second year they have set up at Greenwood. In prior years they have been located at Berkeley Mall and off U.S. 70.

"We look forward to it and coming out and just operating," he said. "Let's say it was an emergency condition and you had no cell phones, you had no telephones, your Internet was down. Amateur radio or ham radio, fundamentally is the lowest form of good communications.

"If everything else goes down and you have a generator and a radio. If you have batteries and radios, you can communicate. You can communicate emergency conditions. You can ask for help. You can coordinate field operations through amateur radio. Anytime there is a hurricane to tornado disaster and there is no communication, amateur radio is always there to provide health and welfare information, passing messages to next to kin."

Wene said that while he has never been involved in that kind of situation that he has known many who have.

Today's radios will interface with computers and can be tied into a system that allows the radios to communicate through the Internet around the world and even send e-mail.

"It (ham radio) is relaxing," he said. "It is a good hobby and I like electronics. I like doing things. I like talking to people. You throw all those together and you have amateur radio. You can build a lot of your own equipment. There are a lot of things that are strictly hands on with amateur radio. That has always peaked my interest.

"I had an old Philco radio as a kid that would pick up some of the AM amateur radio stations. So I used to listen to those."

Smith, 63, a -1965 graduate of Goldsboro High School, has been involved with Morse Code since he was 12 years old. He said he likes to come to Field Day to see "some of the old hams" he knew when he lived here.

"It (Morse Code) is a very, let's use the word antiquated, transmission," he said. "Although it is old, it is a lot of fun to a lot of us. It used to be required for your (radio operator's) license, but nowadays it is not."

Even though it is no longer required many people still want to learn it when they see what it can do, what kind of distance they can talk to using it, he said.

Several years ago, Smith was communicating with a person in South America.

"They had a child who needed a particular dug that was not available there," he said. "I was working near Duke Hospital at the time. They told me what the drug was. I was able to procure the drug through Duke Hospital and send it to them by airmail."

Lion, who was using a satellite digital communications system, said that ham operators' groups design payloads that are placed on satellites and even on the space station.

As it passes overhead each satellite provides about a 10-minute window in which to communicate with anyone inside the satellite's coverage footprint, he said.

Dave Roy of Goldsboro is the section traffic manager for the eastern section of the state.

"It is kind of like the old telegram program," he said. "We handle what we refer to as traffic, messages, from throughout anywhere in the United States. We bring it into state often times by CW (continuous wave or Morse Code) and then we disseminate it across the state."

Traditional communications are tied into a specific system or network while ham operators are all independent with their own equipment, he said. That is why ham operators are still able to send and receive messages when others are not.

For example, during Hurricane Isabelle, Roy helped relay information from the Outer Banks.