Members of the Mahoning Valley Amateur Radio Association will congregate at the Mill Creek MetroParks Farm in Canfield for their annual Field Day on June 22 and 23. The event will allow members to practice their skills while showing the public exactly what amateur radio, or ham, is all about.
"We're moving it to Mill Creek MetroParks this year and have established a great relationship with them," said association treasurer Frank Sole. "Last year, we held it at MCCTC and prior to that it was on a farm in New Springfield."
Sole said the event, which is free and open to the public, has two main goals. The first is to give members a chance to exercise their skills as a ham operator. Club members are often called upon to provide communication services for big events, such as a 5K race or the Fourth of July Parade. Sole said when someone needs to see if a runner finished or if a parade float is ready, they can't use police radios because it is not meant for that type of communications. That is where the ham operator can provide the service.
Photo by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Frank Sole and Dave Brett, members of the Mahoning Valley Amatuer Radio Association and both Poland residents, look over the Mill Creek MetroParks farm in Canfield where they will be hosting the club’s annual Field Day on June 22.
Ham operators are also a vital communications asset to have in emergency situations. Anything from a terrorist attack to a tornado can often require the services a ham operator can provide. More recently, both scenarios were put into action in Boston.
"At the Boston Marathon, we provided communications along the race route," Sole said. "We had to quickly go into our emergency response mode after the bombs went off."
He said ham radios are the only thing that will function well to establish communications in a disaster situation. In fact, he said the first thing that will go down in a disaster is the cell phone because towers are overloaded quickly with calls and none end up going through.
The second priority for the field day is to showcase to the public what amateur radio is all about.
"We show the public what we do and who we are," Sole said. "And we have something new this year. For the first time ever, we have a special set-up to allow the public to go on the air with a special radio."
The event will kick off at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 22 and will continue for 24 hours. Visitors to the event can see first hand just what ham radio is all about.
"It is different today from when it first began," Sole said. "Today a person can by a portable radio for around $40 and the license is not that hard to get."
He said there are three license classes for ham radio. They are technician, general, and extra. Each class has specific limits on frequencies the operator is allowed to use. Technician is the most limited and extra permits the most access.
The license procedures have also changed over the years. Sole said ham operators used to have to learn Morse Code and be able to send a specific number of words per minute to obtain a license. The FCC has since dropped the Morse Code requirement and relies solely on a written test now.
"When Morse Code was dropped, those wanting to learn it increased," Sole said.
Another thing about ham radio is that it can be a family affair. Sole's wife, Brenda, holds a technician's license and association newcomer Dave Brett, also from Poland, holds a general license along with his wife Nancy.
Brett said the test for the technician's license is the easiest. The tests get harder for the next two classes, but the extra class is the top of the line and to earn it opens up a world of communications and more. Sole said astronauts on the space station have a ham radio license and it is not unheard of to communicate with them.
Both Brett and Sole have talked to people in Russia and recently Sole made a contact in Japan.
"The universal ham radio language is English," Sole said.
He added that technology has taken ham radios to a whole new level via computer hook up. He said files and photos can be sent now using ham radio frequencies.
All the technology and information on ham radios will be available for the public to see during the Field Day. He said more than 35,000 ham operators will be conducting similar events across the nation and in Canada on that day. At the farm, four generators will provide power for up to 10 radios. A special station will be set up where members of the public are invited to come and try their hand at getting "on the air." All ages are encouraged to attend.