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July 2, 2013 > Ham Radio Field Day

Ham Radio Field Day

By Siobhan Wetzel

Instant communication with friends, family and news from around the world at any time, day or night, is commonplace but relies on a network vulnerable to disruption. In the midst of large scale disasters, conveniences including power and communications can be disrupted isolating individuals and communities. When common communication services fail, amateur radio communication is ready to step up and save the day. In the recent San Bruno fire caused by a PG&E gas pipeline explosion, amateur radio was the primary means of communication between the Red Cross and evacuation center immediately after the disaster; cell phone service was unreliable. During emergencies such as this, amateur radio is essential to coordinated disaster relief.

On Saturday, June 22, South Bay Amateur Radio Association (SBARA), a group dedicated to maintaining communications under even the most severe circumstances, held their annual 24-hour "field day" at Central Park in Fremont. Bay Area "hams" shared their hobby with visitors while contacting fellow "hams" across North America. "It is the time every real radio amateur is looking forward to," said SBARA Board Member Bernhard Hailer. Stations set up in tents by ham radio enthusiasts, ranged from small, handheld radios to larger, complete mobile stations. Participating "hams" helped visitors operate their equipment, and one lucky youngster spoke with the mayor of Palo Alto. Throughout field day, contacts were made all over the US, reaching as far as the east coast.

Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, has been around since 1888; Amateurs of Australia formed the first radio society in 1910. Origin of the nickname "ham" is open to debate. Some claim it began with descriptions of incompetent telegraph operators as "ham fisted" while others ascribe it to early amateur radio operators - hams - disrupting official and commercial use of the airwaves. Amateur radio operators build their own private stations and communicate with fellow 'hams" around the globe. Several different frequencies are used to transmit either voice or morse code to other receivers. All amateur radio operators are required to be licensed at one of three levels: Technician, General, Amateur Extra; higher levels allow access to more frequencies. Today, approximately 767,000 "hams" are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) across the United States.

Since 1934, amateur radio groups across North America hold a field day on the fourth full weekend of June, testing their skills and practicing emergency communication. "That's what field day is all about, emergency preparedness, with all of the things that have happened recently like the fire in Colorado, the tornados in Oklahoma; they are all serviced by amateur radio," said Bill Artlet, News Editor of SBARA. When cell service and landlines become inoperative during emergencies, amateur radios, powered by backup generators, can fill the communication gap. Ham radio is often essential for immediate disaster relief. "Every major disaster has radio amateurs involved," said Hailer, SBARA board member. Amateur radio is a critical link for emergency rescue teams to communicate. "Amateur radio is there when everything else fails. A lot of people don't realize that," said Steve Wilson, vice president of SBARA.

Although this year's field day has passed, the fun and excitement of ham radio is always open to everyone. SBARA meets on the second Friday of every month at 7:30 p.m. at Hurricane Electric located at 48233 Warm Springs Boulevard, Fremont, CA. Anyone interested in amateur radio is welcome to attend and join the world of 'hams.' More information can be found at

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