Ham radio exercise

Jackson Hill Park resembled a campground with tents and trailers this weekend as several members of the Marietta Amateur Radio Club participated in the American Radio Relay League’s annual 24-hour Field Day.

Held the fourth weekend of every June, the Field Day gives ham radio operators across the nation a chance to test their communications equipment by making as many contacts as possible with other remote operators.

“This goes back to the roots of ham radio and it’s really a readiness exercise-a once a year event to make sure everything is in good shape in case of an emergency,” said club member and ham operator John Triplett of Marietta.

Fellow member Paul Jett of Oak Grove noted the derecho windstorm that struck the area two years ago on June 29, knocking out power for the entire area for days, is an example of how the radio club could be utilized.

“We weren’t called out by the local emergency services at that time, but we were ready to respond if needed,” he said. “Many of our members have had the training required to operate during emergency situations.”

Jett, 60, and his wife, Barb, are longtime members of the Marietta club.

“This club goes back to the 1920s and 1930s,” he said. “In those early days ham radios could only communicate to a distance of 20 or 30 miles. If you had a set that reached 30 miles you really had something.”

Technological advancement has changed all that. Jett said during this weekend’s exercise he and Barb had made contacts in California, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Hawaii.

The Field Day includes an informal “contest” for clubs or individual operators to see how many contacts they can make with other operators within the 24-hour period, from 2 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Jett said those conversations are kept short in order to facilitate more radio contacts within the contest period.

“We’ll have some remote operators call us with their radio exchange number, and we answer with ours-2 Alpha Ohio,” he said. “We make calls from here to reach remote operators, too.”

More than 1,000 total contacts had been made by seven of the club’s 26 members as of 10:30 a.m. Sunday, according to club president Ralph Matheny.

“We’ve had a rough year. Some of the members have been ill or hospitalized and couldn’t attend, and on Saturday a generator went out on us,” he said. “But those are things we might have to deal with in a real emergency situation, so I think we’ve done pretty well this year. And if we’re ever needed in an emergency we would be ready and willing to help out.”

Unlike the other operators who used voice contact over the weekend, Matheny, 69, sat in a separate trailer sending out and receiving his messages in Morse Code.

“It used to be, in order to get your operator’s license, you had to know Morse Code,” Jett said. “But in the 1990s that requirement was dropped, which makes it much easier to obtain a license.”

The weekend Field Day was 40-year-old Dart resident Clayton Brookover’s first time out with the Marietta club.

“I started becoming interested when I was 12 years old,” he said. “A friend of my mom was into ham radio. I wanted to get my operator’s license, but it took several years before I could study and take the test.”

Brookover said he’s now able to escape to his radio shack at home when he has the time.

“I’ve mostly been watching the other club operators this weekend, and I’m learning a lot from them,” he said.

Matheny said the club always welcomes new members, and meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the clubhouse on Hartline Road in Stanleyville.

Anyone interested can call him at (740) 374-8637.