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Ham radio club gathers to connect with others around the world
Annual Amateur Radio Field Day includes open house, competition for enthusiasts
06242018 HAM 2
Amateur radio operators, also known as "hams," install a telecommunications tower in a field near the North Hall Lions Community Center in Clermont on Saturday, June 23. The radio operators were there for the annual Amateur Radio Field Day exercise. - photo by Layne Saliba

In a small, open field beside the North Hall Lions Community Center, amateur radio operators put together and raised a telecommunications tower. Soon after, an antenna was sent to the top using a pulley system.

The radio operators, also known as “hams,” were in Clermont on Saturday, June 23, for the American Radio Relay League’s annual ham radio field day that serves as an open house for new operators and competition for others.

“We’re just showing that we could use generators or batteries and talk all over the world,” said Tony Dougherty, a member of the Lanierland Amateur Radio Club. “That’s what this antenna will allow you to do, so it’s just been a fascination of mine for years.”

Being an amateur radio operator is a hobby many enjoy. More than 40,000 people across North America take part in field day. Each year, they gather and set up temporary transmitting stations to show what ham radio can do.

The main purpose is to allow communication during an emergency when there’s no other method available. The signal doesn’t need electricity or cellular service and is transmitted worldwide by an antenna.

John Lipscomb said ham radios traditionally helped military members communicate with loved ones at home while they were deployed.

“Nowadays, they’ve got the internet and they Skype and do everything else, but back then, just to hear mama’s voice meant a lot to an 18-year-old kid,” Lipscomb said.

He said he’s been interested in ham radio since he was young and recently got back into it after retiring from the Navy and raising a family. This was his first field day.

“We’re kind of the last line of communication,” Lipscomb said.

Being able to talk to people across the world draws ham radio enthusiasts. The competition is over who can make the most contacts in 24 hours.

“This field day is kind of why I got into ham radio,” said Brandon Brock, an LARC member. “Just going out, being able to operate off-grid remotely and just talking across the world.”

There are three classes of licensed amateur radio operators: technician, general and amateur extra. Hams take a test for each one to be able to use different bands or frequencies, opening them to a wider range of contacts.

Brock wasn’t interested in amateur radio to begin with, but his friend kept asking him to try it. Eventually he gave in, took his technician test and said he was “hooked.”

Brock said he earned his general license in November. In December, he started having regular communication with a man named Alex in Ecuador.

“I’ve talked to him every month since December,” Brock said. “We just run across each other. And now, weekly, we get on and get on the band somewhere and we just talk.”

When amateur radio operators talk to each other, it’s usually about simple things like weather or current events. Dougherty said it’s “friendly conversation.”

“It just fascinates me to be able to hear the different accents from all over the world,” Dougherty said.

Whether they’re talking with friends or helping during an emergency, Brock said he’s trying to build up the LARC. Numbers are dwindling, so the field day was a good way promote the club and show people the fun that comes from talking to people around the world.

“I like talking to people, making friends, and if we do have a crisis, being able to still communicate,” Brock said. “And maybe, if we have a grid go down, I can help my community and provide communication for emergency or anything really.”