Radio hams transmit opportunities, receive success during field day

Members of the Southernmost Illinois Emergency Radio Association gathered Saturday at Fort Massac State Park in Metropolis, Illinois, to celebrate the American Radio Relay League’s Summer Field Day. (Photo by Shelley Byrne)

Amateur radio enthusiasts from Kentucky and Illinois enjoyed a day of making radio contacts from around the country while eating and socializing during the American Radio Relay League Summer Field Day on Saturday.

Oliver Baker, 6, of Metropolis, Illinois, takes a peek to see what Southernmost Illinois Emergency Radio Club members Drew Byrne (left), 14, of Kevil, Kentucky, and Aidan Carnes of Karnak, Illinois, are doing as they make a radio contact during ARRL Summer Field Day on Saturday. (Photo by Lloyd Baker)
Oliver Baker, 6, of Metropolis, Illinois, takes a peek to see what Southernmost Illinois Emergency Radio Club members Drew Byrne (left), 14, of Kevil, Kentucky, and Aidan Carnes of Karnak, Illinois, are doing as they make a radio contact during ARRL Summer Field Day on Saturday. (Photo by Lloyd Baker)

For the Southernmost Illinois Emergency Radio Association (SIERA), headquartered in Metropolis, Illinois, that meant gathering at Fort Massac State Park. The club has 19 members, ranging in age from 14 to 78. Thirteen members and six guests joined in the activities. They hoisted an antenna into a nearby tree after throwing a line around an upper branch before setting up their radios, which used battery power. Eventually, they talked to hams based as far away as California, New York, Texas and North Carolina.

“There is no infrastructure required,” club president Jay Smock said. “It is self-supporting. It does not require the internet or any government entity. You can fit everything you need in a backpack.”

ARRL Field Day, held annually across the nation on the fourth weekend in June, involves roughly 40,000 licensed amateur radio operators, called “hams,” setting up temporary transmitting stations in public places to demonstrate ham radio’s science, skill and service to communities and the nation. Field Day has been an annual event since 1933 and remains the most popular event in ham radio, according to the ARRL.

During Field Day, hams make contact with other licensed operators around the nation or world. This helps them to practice for an emergency in which they could provide vital emergency communications, even if cell phone towers and the internet are down, Smock said.

The southern Illinois club has a relationship with area emergency managers, including Brian Horn, the Massac County emergency management director. In an emergency, they have authorization to use emergency communications equipment, which could free trained first responders to deal with any happenings that require their immediate attention, club secretary Geoff Williams said.

Ham radio also allows people to get to know each other, spending time talking to one another, an increasingly important skill in a time where more people are texting or using the internet, Smock said.

Club member Lloyd Baker and his wife, Dr. Deanna Baker, made the day a family affair, bringing along their twin 6-year-old sons, Spencer and Oliver, for a chance to see what talking on the radio is all about.

That helped further other goals of field day, including being a visible presence within the community and attracting a diverse group of people to learn about amateur radio.
Baker said, from his experience, those most interested in learning about ham radio fall into one of four categories: those wanting to be prepared in the event of an emergency, those who enjoy community service, those who are competitive and attracted to contests using amateur radios and those who are interested in science and experimentation.

He said that as someone who wants to be a lifelong learner, he falls into that last category.
“There has been a lot I have learned by doing this and, in turn, I like teaching about it now,” he said.

Club member Michael Hicks agreed, saying his favorite part of the hobby is having the opportunity to be a mentor to newly licensed hams, growing the ham community even more.

Youth involvement is important to the club, in particular. Club members participate in the Boy Scouts’ Jamboree on the Air annually, setting up at the Fort Massac Encampment in October. Baker, assisted by other club members, also recently served as the merit badge counselor for a troop of Paducah-based Boy Scouts from Troop 2007 who earned their Radio Merit Badge with the club’s help. Along the way, the scouts also learned about half of what they would need to know to obtain their introductory “technician” license, Baker said.

Smock said the club also participates in providing emergency communications for area races, including the annual Iron Mom Half-Marathon and the Moonlight Bike Ride in Paducah and the River to River Relay and Shawnee Hills 100 in southern Illinois. Each race route has areas where cell phone communications could be difficult, so club members post themselves along the route with their radios, able to call in if someone were to trip, fall or otherwise need the help of emergency medical services or if traffic issues called for additional law enforcement support.

Ronnie Stone, himself a retired law enforcement officer, along with Williams and some other club members, said for him the hobby has allowed him to continue giving back to his community following his retirement, and he also enjoys socializing with other hams.

“There are so many aspects of this hobby that you can find an aspect that fits you,” he said.

Those interested in learning about how to become a licensed amateur radio operator can visit the club’s website at ws1era.org, search for the Southernmost Illinois Emergency Radio Association group on Facebook, attend a meeting at 5:30 on the third Monday of each month at Trinity Church, 605 Metropolis St., Metropolis, Illinois., or visit with members who congregate at 10 a.m. for breakfast most Saturday mornings at Yesterday’s Home Cookin’, 310 W. 10th St., Metropolis.

PHOTO: Members of the Southernmost Illinois Emergency Radio Association gathered Saturday at Fort Massac State Park in Metropolis, Illinois, to celebrate the American Radio Relay League’s Summer Field Day. (Photo by Shelley Byrne)

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