Ham radio drill
On the last full weekend in June, local ham radio operators gather to work with 40,000 other operators around the world as part of their annual 24-hour preparedness drill.
Members of Delaware-Lehigh Amateur Radio Club (DLARC) set up this year in a pavilion at Bicentennial Park, East Allen Township.
“We pick this weekend because it is when ionization is best,” said Bob Green, of radio station KE3AW. “We set up contacts with other operators and record them.”
Ionization in the atmosphere helps signals travel farther because they can bounce off the atmosphere.
There are some 700,000 ham radio operators around the world.
“We serve a very distinct function. When there is a loss of communication, we are the backup that gets called in,” said George Wieland, of N3SQD, who serves as the Northampton County emergency coordinator. “The last emergency we were called out for was Hurricane Sandy. That was a long one, and we had people working around the clock in shifts.”
Many of the operators are military veterans who picked up their radio interest while in the service.
“On events like this, we want to get as many contacts as we can. Our results get reported with the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL), so the numbers are like bragging rights. And we get a chance to try out different antennae to see how far we can bounce a signal,” Green said.
But it’s not all business. The club members get to spend 24 hours sharing stories, renewing acquaintances and having a good picnic lunch around the clock.
The national club started in 1933, and the 200-member DLARC began in 1948.
“We use older technology, but it is robust and hard to knock out,” said Andrew Parker, of WV1B.
Parker hails from Cali- fornia but has family he visits in the area.
Older technology, yes, but there are satellites that amateurs can use to bounce signals.
Parker told an interesting story about the Big Sur Marathon in California.
“When they run the marathon, there is limited communication in the area. We set up posts and relay messages if there is anyone that needs medical attention during the race. We’re tied into the emergency vehicles,” Parker said.
His story is not unusual. Most well-attended bicycle races and marathons have amateur radio backup.
The other function of the preparedness drill is to promote amateur radio as a hobby. An open position was available for anyone who wanted to get on air and make a contact. The club offers nine classes, the next beginning Sept. 5, that culminate in a test to get a technician license.
“Anyone can become an operator. The first step allows a technician to talk over local bands. There are three ratings — technician, general and amateur extra,” Green said.
An interesting story on degrees of separation came from Pete Varounis. Before the advent of digital records for everything, the owners of specific licenses were listed in print, a “telephone book” for license holders. The practical thing is to throw the old one away when the new edition came out. Varounis, instead, saved his and collected more. He has about 280 books that stretch back to the beginnings of amateur radio.
It just so happened in the highly popular television series “Last Man Standing,” a ham radio is featured. The writers needed FCC license numbers that had never been used for their characters. And they added criteria — a man in his 60s who got his license 40 years ago in Oklahoma. Licenses are issued by regions.
“It wasn’t anything easy because I had to look at the historical records and the future ones. They could not have a license number someone used,” he said.
Varounis was, and still is, the go-to guy. His reward is he got to go backstage with actor Tim Allen, and his license placard, NL7XM, is usually displayed during the show.
Amateur radio operators would like to see more teens get involved.
“It gives them a chance to be creative and see how things work,” Green said.
He did point out that women operators also are few.
“When a woman gets on the air, everyone tries to connect. Sometimes we prerecord a woman’s voice to have operators contact us,” he said.
The group is varied. Dean Guth wears crazy outfits and brews craft beer when he is not on the radio.
“It takes a whole group to put on one of these drills. Everyone chips in, and we can get it done, just like we do in a real emergency,” Green said.
Interested in becoming a ham operator? Contact KE3AW@ARRL.net or call 610-432-8286.