Amateur radio enthusiasts compete in annual ‘Field Day’

ST. GEORGE — A daylong competition of sorts is underway from noon Saturday to noon Sunday connecting amateur ham radio enthusiasts from as far as Hawaii to Puerto Rico and all of North America in between.

Radio equipment is at the ready at the K7DLX club headquarters during the American Radio Relay League’s annual “Field Day” event, St. George, Utah, June 25, 2017 | Photo by Nakavius Jacks, St. George News

The American Radio Relay League has sponsored the yearly “Field Day” event since 1933. Every year in June, operators numbering in the tens of thousands set up transmitting stations in public places to demonstrate the skill, science and service potential of ham radio technology, all the while engaging in friendly competition.

Watch video top of this report.

Participants make as many unique contacts as they can in a 24-hour period using shortwave transmitters operating via voice or Morse code.

“The signals are just bouncing far, near – everywhere,” Jim Cowley, Field Day participant operating with the St. George-based K7DLX club, said.

Participants exchange call signs and location information from one another then log the exchange in a computer database with results to be tallied later by the American Radio Relay League.

A Dixie Amateur Radio Club member operates a ham radio with Morse code during the American Radio Relay League’s annual “Field Day” event at Dixie Applied Technology College’s Emergency Response Training Center, St. George, Utah, June 25, 2017 | Photo by Nakavius Jacks, St. George News

“Just boom, fast as you can go,” Cowley said, referring to the rate at which contacts are made on a good day.

“Sometimes you make hundreds of contacts. It depends on the – what they call the conditions – in the upper ionosphere,” Cowley said. “If the conditions are good for the signals to bounce, then you’ll get farther and farther signals.”

Conditions in the ionosphere were making for a slow start to the event Saturday afternoon when St. George News visited K7DLX’s headquarters, but Cowley said he expects things to pick up in the evening when conditions typically improve.

While the Field Day incorporates some friendly competition, it also serves as an educational event with real-world applications.

“We have a nationwide, including Canada, emergency communication exercise with amateur radios – teams all over the United States,” Jim Ashby, Dixie Amateur Radio Club vice president, said.

Dixie Amateur Radio Club operators participate in the American Radio Relay League’s annual “Field Day” event at Dixie Applied Technology College’s Emergency Response Training Center, St. George, Utah, June 25, 2017 | Photo by Nakavius Jacks, St. George News

The club’s operators use both voice and Morse code to make contacts utilizing elaborate antenna setups at the Dixie Applied Technology College’s Emergency Response Training Center on Airport Road in St. George.

Ashby also serves as emergency coordinator for the all-volunteer Washington County Amateur Radio Emergency Services team composed of 75 operators who undergo regular training with up-to-date equipment in order to provide shortwave radio services in case of disaster.

“We have standard operating procedures and memorandums of operation with Washington County, the hospital and the health department with radios located in all three locations to give people the ability to communicate if the normal communications goes down,” Ashby said, noting that other means of communication like cell phone service will typically go down within 96 hours of an incident.

A digital map displays contacts reached as of Saturday afternoon by the K7DLX club during the American Radio Relay League’s annual “Field Day” event, St. George, Utah, June 25, 2017 | Photo by Nakavius Jacks, St. George News

“We’ll give them the ability to make contact outside of this area to the family and friends who are located all across the country and give them welfare updates.”

Read more: When all else fails, Washington County Amateur Radio is there

The Field Day also serves as a social event in which operators far and wide converge to compare technologies and speak to people who may be located thousands of miles away.

“You build your knowledge base, you build your practice and you learn about people,” Ashby said.

Though no prize is offered by the American Radio Relay League for clubs that rack up the most points, the result will reveal how regional clubs measure up against each other.

“It’s all about bragging rights,” Ashby said, chuckling.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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