You just never know who you are going to talk to or where in the world that might be when you fire up a ham radio, said Riley Grady of the Kinston Amateur Radio Society.

"It's exciting, and a great hobby that can help others in time of disaster," he said.

Members of the Kinston club joined with the Wayne County Amateur Radio Association this past weekend for the annual Amateur Radio Relay League Field Day for the United States and Canada.

"It is just amazing how you can talk off a piece of wire (antenna)," Grady said. "A simple little piece of wire and you can talk all around the world, and that's the thrill of if it.

"It is also coming together, setting up communications and especially when you have disasters. This is what ham radio is for -- when communication goes down the world is in disarray."

The ham operators set up in tents and campers on a wooded lot on Salem Church Road where for 24 hours they manned their radios and made contact with faraway places, often wishing each other good luck with the field day before signing off.

The Field Day, which got under way Saturday at 2 p.m. and ended at 2 p.m. Sunday, is an American Radio Relay League sponsored event in the United Stated and Canada, where ham radio operators test their skills and abilities to operate under adverse conditions.

There was no emergency this time, but members of the Wayne County Amateur Radio Association were checking to make sure they would be ready if ever called on.

It was also announced that the local Salvation Army will be joining the Salvation Army's own worldwide emergency radio system called the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network.

The Goldsboro chapter just received its license this past Friday, said Dan Boyette, a club member and who works with the Salvation Army.

"We are in the process of setting it up," he said. "It will take several weeks to get the equipment right and get everything set up. What that means is if there is a disaster that happens in eastern North Carolina that we will respond by communicating with different agencies if the power is off and things of that nature."

It is a first for eastern North Carolina, Boyette said.

"I don't know why it hasn't been in eastern North Carolina with all of the hurricanes that we have," he said. "We are excited about it.

"The Salvation Army, as you know, is going to support disaster services whatever happens, but radio communications will make a world of difference in helping others."

Boyette said he gives the Wayne County Amateur Radio Association all of the credit for putting the project together.

Boyette, who came up with the idea about two years ago, and other club members will operate the system locally.

"My wife, Wendy, is fixing to take the course so she can operate it," he said. "My wife and I enjoy doing this (Salvation Army). We enjoy helping people. It is just something that makes you feel good."

Participants strung up homemade antennas between the trees in an effort to test how sturdy their response would be in any emergency situation where other forms of communication fail.

"We get together and practice what would happen if we didn't have any power and we were actually having to set up off grid in emergency situations," said Wayne Stewart, president of the Wayne County Amateur Radio Association. "It kind of gives us a run through setting up without having to rely on public power."

They did so by using batteries, generators and solar panels to power everything from satellite communications to Morse code.

"This is stuff that we can just set up in the field," club vice president Pete Wene said. "We don't need anything but tents, generators and ourselves."

If need be, any of the radio operators could set up in their back yards and talk to anybody, who is using a ham radio, at any other location in the world, Stewart said.

"It (field day) is a bit of contest," he said. "They keep score, but our focus is not on the score. It's on actually having fun, and it is also a way to raise awareness with the community. As cellphones come in, TV, internet, there are not as many people who actually know about us.

"People think that we have gone away and that we are not the thing to use now."

Saturday's event was a way to prepare for a possible hurricane that could take down communications and power such as what happened in Puerto Rico last year, he said.

Ham radio operators were set up on the island using generators or solar power to make contacts with the U.S., Stewart said.

Stewart said he has a friend in Wilmington who helped make contacts between families on the island and in the U.S.

"It was the only way that those family members knew that their loved ones were still OK," he said. "That is what we are practicing."

Wene said he, too, has passed radio traffic from the safe end.

"I have never been at a ground zero," he said. "Like Wayne said, out of Puerto Rico for a while, the only communication out were by ham radio. When Katrina went into New Orleans, the first communications out of there was ham radio.

"When the cell towers in New York became jammed after 9/11, they used ham radios to direct the firemen and policemen to everywhere they went because everything else was down. Everything was so jammed up you couldn't get anything through."

Stewart said ham radio is just something that he has always been interested in. His children are beginning to get interested in it as well, he said.

The club holds amateur radio classes, Wene said.

A free beginner class will be held in September and one for the next grade license in January. The only cost is that for a book.

A $15 fee is required to take the test to be licensed.

For more information about the club and meetings visit the website at www.k4cyp.com.