Guys lean into microphones. Twirl tuners. Listen. Twirl those tuners again. Listen again.
“We’ve been trying to make contacts pretty much across North America and sometimes where ever else we can,” said Phil Hunter, president of the Greenwood Amateur Radio Club.
“It’s for emergency preparedness in case we have like a major storm, an earthquake, any kind of thing like that,” he said. “We can set up just about anywhere.”
He’s hunkered down at the community hall in Wilmot with a handful of other club members as part of American Radio Relay League’s annual field day June 22 and 23. That’s when ham radio enthusiasts from around North America making contact with each other in a 24-hour period.
“We’ve done this in tents, we’ve done it out in the woods for different events and things,” said Hunter. “It’s just kind of a good hobby.”
With a roof over their heads and a kitchen nearby, it’s almost luxurious. But they’re doing this 24-hour field day using generators. Deep cycle batteries can also be used. The idea is, what if there was no power? How would you communicate?
While the gear is new and high-tech, the science is as old as radio itself. It’s those old Morse code signals sent by radio during wartime. Sharla Hunter has two of those set up – the old style that you tap, tap, tap with your finger, and a new one that gives dashes on one side and dots on the other.
Phil Hunter uses an HF radio and it takes a bit of an ear to sort out what contacts are saying. “It’s not always easy to read somebody.”
Richard Huebner from Cottage Cove and Darrell Crooks from Nictaux West are newly licenced amateur radio operators. Huebner dropped by last year’s field day and later took part in classes offered by the Greenwood club. Crooks heard about what Huebner was doing and started taking the instructional classes too.
“One day I got an email from the club saying there was a course starting up, and I thought ‘why not?’” Huebner said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I signed up.”
Crooks joined the course part way through and managed to get his licence as well. He likes talking to people from around the world, but he’s all about the getting the equipment to work.
During the field day they had radios set up and were making contacts from Maine to Colorado.
“The intent is to prepare our club and our people for an emergency that could happen. Hopefully it never does,” said club member Bill Underwood. “We live in a good area and don’t have the problems some other people have. But the intent is to be prepared for an emergency.”
“We set up radio communications that are completely self-contained. We run the radios 24 hours a day using our own generator power,” he said. “We’re trying to make contacts all over North America. In case of emergency you may have to do that.”
“Last night we did contact the Virgin Islands and France,” Underwood said, “and a little bit further west – Washington. Quebec and Ontario I guess.”
Underwood said atmospheric conditions weren’t ideal for the field day. “Propagation wasn’t the best,” he said.
Propagation is how radio waves bounce off the atmosphere and back to earth. Amateur radio operators can bounce signals off the moon, talk to astronauts on the space station, and talk to other ham radio operators all over the world.
Amateur radio is regulated by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, but local clubs like the Greenwood Amateur Radio Club, the Kings County Amateur Radio Club, or the Annapolis Valley Amateur Radio Club are happy to take prospective hams under their wings and help them learn and obtain their licenses.