Ham radio operators flock to Thacher Park for a nationwide event

— Photo from k2ct.org

At an earlier field day, a young visitor gets to be a ham.

ALBANY COUNTY — A nationwide amateur radio exercise will take place at John Boyd Thacher State Park on Saturday and Sunday, June 22 and 23.

The field day has been organized since 1933 by The National Association for Amateur Radio in the United States and will take place this year in the park’s Hales Cave area.

During last year’s field day at Thacher, more than 26,000 hams, as amateur radio operators are called, participated from thousands of locations across North America. According to the association, there are more than 750,000 amateur radio licensees in the United States, and an estimated 3 million worldwide.

The public was invited to watch and to participate last year. Visitors tried out amateur radio for themselves at a “Get On The Air” station, guided by FCC-licensed amateur operators.

“We can take somebody who has an interest, just maybe a little mic fright, you know, maybe never did this before,” said John Fritze last year. “We sit them down in front of the radio, we have them make a contact and usually the look on their face is amazing. When they’re talking to somebody in California or they’re talking to somebody in Florida and it’s like there’s no wires between us.”

Asked if that wasn’t more thrilling before the era of cell phones, Fritze said that the difference between amateur radio and cell phones is, with a cell phone, you are talking to your friends, people whose numbers you dialed on purpose. “Amateur radio is making new friends,” said Fritze. “It’s a very nice distinction.”

The use of radio signals, reaching beyond national borders, “bring people together while providing essential communication in the service of communities,” according to a release from Albany Amateur Radio Association, one of the nation’s oldest clubs. “Field Day highlights ham radio’s ability to work reliably under any conditions from almost any location and create an independent, wireless communications network.”

Some hams from the Northeast will also use the radio stations set up in their homes or taken to their backyards to operate individually or with their families. Many hams have portable radio communication capability that includes alternative energy sources such as generators, solar panels, and batteries to power their equipment.

“This year's event is also noteworthy given that a particularly active hurricane season is predicted,” the release said.

“Hams have a long history of serving our communities when storms or other disasters damage critical communication infrastructure, including cell towers,” said Peter Hines, spokesman for the association, in a release. “Ham radio functions completely independently of the internet and phone systems and a station can be set up almost anywhere in minutes. Hams can quickly raise a wire antenna in a tree or on a mast, connect it to a radio and power source, and communicate effectively with others,” he said.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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