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Radio club uses Field Day to spread the word about ham radio
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Joseph Lee, 21, from Winder, operates a radio attempting to make contact with other stations during an amateur radio field day hosted by Lanierland Amateur Radio Club at the North Hall Lions Club in Clermont on Saturday, June 22, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

For the Lanierland Amateur Radio Club, the annual Field Day event at the North Hall Lions Club building in Clermont on Saturday, June 22 was more than a competition, it was an opportunity to spread the word about ham radio to locals while also connecting with an international community.

The Field Day event was sponsored by the American Radio Relay League. In the competition, ham radio stations across the country, U.S. territories and Canada attempted to contact as many people around the world in a 24-hour period. The two-day event is scheduled to end on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Members of the Lanierland Amateur Radio Club got up Saturday morning and set up its radio in a trailer running on generator power and then later reached out to contacts.

According to Activity Manager Joey Nichols, the competition was less about winning and more about bringing awareness to the practical uses of ham radio in an internet-driven society to visitors who came by over the course of the event. It also was about helping to grow a community that keeps in touch using these devices.

“It’s really a hobby at its core,” Nichols said. “People just like electronics, they like the principle of building something that can transmit and somebody else can receive it, and from there it goes off into many different facets, whether it’s public service and working communications behind the scenes at a bicycle race or at a football game. We do volunteer communications for a lot of that stuff. With emergency preparedness, there are groups dedicated to amateur radio emergency services, and that’s all they do is facilitate communications in times of need, whether it’s severe weather, hurricanes, disaster relief type stuff.”

While ham radios, which operate outside of other communication infrastructures, are often used in the event of emergencies, loss of cell phone reception or power outages, several members of Lanierland Amateur Radio Club and beyond use it as a means of building a sense of community, one that spans time zones, as well as generational gaps.

“We call it the ‘Ham Fam,’ locally,” Nichols said. “Just a group of people that may not even otherwise know each other. There’s different age groups, some of us are retired, some of us work 40 hours a week and have small kids, and the retired guys usually like to keep the communication with the younger crew because it gives them, you know, people they may not be friends with any other way, but we talk every day. It really builds a strong sense of community, and we try to help each other, as well as the community as a whole.”

There is a process for getting into ham radio that includes a government-issued test and a license with three stages: Technician, General Class and Extra, which all vary in accessible frequencies and privileges.

Lanierland President Brandon Brock says that while there are lower tiers of training and testing to go through, in his experience, most people try to reach the end of the program.

“Most people usually try to go all the way, we try to go all the way through and graduate,” Brock said. “But your end goal is to be an Extra. As a hobbyist it’s just whatever you like, so if you want to stop at General, you can stop at General. If you want to stop at Tech, you can stop at Tech.”

Ultimately, what Lanierland hopes to accomplish by inviting the public to events like Field Day is to ensure people the hobby still has its uses and isn’t entirely obsolete in a world with digital forms of communication, and ensuring younger generations help keep it afloat as well.

“A lot of people think it’s that it’s very much like CB radio or something that kind of is dying off, but really it’s alive and well,” Nichols said. “We’ve seen a big surge in the younger people being interested in ham radio.That’s really what we want people to see is that if you’ve ever wondered what ham radio is, we’re here to tell you about it, to show you how it works, and there’s something about certain people that when they see it, it just resonates with them and they want to learn more about it and learn how they can get involved. It doesn’t matter if it’s from a hobby thing or a cultural thing, I want to see how far around the world I can talk, or I want to talk to astronaut. Whatever you want to do, there’s something for everybody.”