SUBMITTED PHOTO Belvidere Republican
Matthew Tracy of the President of Big Thunder Amateur Radio Club has strung his antenna out the window to reach a wider region of radio operators during their Winter Field Day.

By Anne Eickstadt


“We operate for 24 hours, from noon on Saturday until noon on Sunday. It is a way to test the ability of amateur radio to operate in less than ideal conditions without power. We are running a simulation of a situation such as they had in Florida and Puerto Rico where the hurricanes knocked out the power and cell phones didn’t work.

“They communicated a lot with the United States by ham radio to ask for help and supplies. A lot of the amateur radio operators in the US work with emergency services.

“This weekend we are using nothing from the power or communications grids. We brought what we need with us and we will take it all home tomorrow. Last year, we held a winter Field Day [last full weekend in January] and we were able to talk with all of the United States and Puerto Rico, as well as San Andreas Island and Providencia off Nicaragua,” said Matthew Tracy, President of Big Thunder Amateur Radio Club in Boone County. “All from our little set-up here.”

This year the club was able to use the Spring Township Building for shelter for the weekend. Emergencies may take out the power grid but a shelter of some type may still be available to protect the operators from the elements.

The contest part is simply to contact as many other stations as possible and to learn to operate radio gear in abnormal situations and less than optimal conditions. 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 (also called “hams”) are well known for their communications support in real disaster and post-disaster situations.

ARRL has 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 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.

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.

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The Big Thunder Amateur Radio Club meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month at the Spring Township Building, 3150 Shattuck Road. You can find club information on their Facebook page.



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