How fitting that the grounds of the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center provided the venue as members of the Mahoning Valley Amateur Radio Association gathered, honing their emergency skills, while educating the public with demonstrations of the newest digital and satellite capabilities, voice communications, and even historical Morse code.
Field Day, held for a 24-hour period on June 23 and 24, was just one of many held throughout the United States and Canada; the culmination of the weeklong Amateur Radio Week, sponsored by the ARRI, the national association for Amateur Radio, offering the public the opportunity to see and learn how to obtain their own FCC radio license.
Member Wes Boyd shared that operators construct emergency stations utilizing only emergency power supplies in parks, shopping malls, schools and back yards around the country. At the local Field Day, participants set up antennas and radio equipment overnight, and were soon speaking to Europe, South America, and South Africa.
With a wealth of years of experience among them, Nancy Brett, Wes Boyd, Dave Brett, and Jack Sovik (on the radio), are pictured at the public information tent at the 2012 Field Day event held recently at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center.
According to information provided by the Mahoning Valley Amateur Radio Association, the operators are often the first responders able to provide critical information and communications in such events as the California wildfires, Oregon and Michigan storms, and Hurricane Katrina, for which hundreds of volunteer operators traveled south in an effort to save both lives and property.
For many, interest spreads, as with two-year member Dave Brett, whose wife Nancy Brett, developed her own interest in amateur radio, and became an official member in July.
Explaining the levels of membership, Nancy is now at the "Tech" level, according to her husband Dave, who, along with Boyd, has moved through the "General" level and is now an "Extra."
Explaining that as a newcomer, one can acquire and assemble the necessary equipment as inexpensively or as elaborately as they like, Boyd said many visit electronic flea markets.
"I've been doing it a lot of years," he said, adding that he has assisted in numerous disasters during that time, including the snowstorms of 1979 and the tornadoes of 1985.
Originating as a beginner with a "dollars' worth of parts," Les Benson of Hubbard, recalled Boyd and other members gifting him with a care package to get him started. A pilot, Benson said he soon heard the words "K3LRLes, we hear you," to the background sounds of bombing in Afghanistan.
"I cried like a baby," he said.
Having hoped that people would visit and "see for themselves, this is not your grandfather's radio anymore," the Mahoning Valley Amateur Radio Association President Jerry Viele said, "The communications networks that ham radio people can quickly create have saved many lives in the past months when other systems failed or were overloaded."
With 650,000 Amateur Radio licensees in the United States, and more than 2.5 million around the world, through the ARRL's ARES program, ham volunteers provide emergency communications for thousands of state and local emergency response agencies at no cost.