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Morse code knights ply airwaves

Local ham radio operators prepare for next disaster

  • Al Mason searches for "contacts" at Poet's Seat Tower on Saturday during the Franklin County Amateur Radio Club Field Day.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Al Mason searches for "contacts" at Poet's Seat Tower on Saturday during the Franklin County Amateur Radio Club Field Day.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bob Dickerman of Northfield, WA1QKT, shows Scott Duffus of Gilford, V.t., KC1BZC, how to make a contact during the Franklin County Amateur Radio Club Field Day at Poet's Seat Tower in Greenfield on Saturday.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Bob Dickerman of Northfield, WA1QKT, shows Scott Duffus of Gilford, V.t., KC1BZC, how to make a contact during the Franklin County Amateur Radio Club Field Day at Poet's Seat Tower in Greenfield on Saturday.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Al Mason searches for "contacts" at Poet's Seat Tower on Saturday during the Franklin County Amateur Radio Club Field Day.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • Bob Dickerman of Northfield, WA1QKT, shows Scott Duffus of Gilford, V.t., KC1BZC, how to make a contact during the Franklin County Amateur Radio Club Field Day at Poet's Seat Tower in Greenfield on Saturday.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

GREENFIELD — “Got one!” exclaimed Deerfield resident Al Mason, as a repeating pattern of beeps began to emanate from the speakers of the laptop set out in front of him.

Mason, an amateur ham radio enthusiast, spent a good part of the day Saturday sending and receiving radio communications via Morse Code from Poet’s Seat Tower as part of the Amateur Radio Relay League’s nationwide Field Day event, which gave thousands of radio operators from across the country the opportunity to flaunt their emergency communication prowess over the airwaves.

A few feet away from Mason’s Morse code tent — where he began tapping back his own salvo of beeps — sat a tan recreational vehicle with wires running out to various antennae that had been set up earlier in morning. Some of the structures were freestanding, others hung from trees, and a smaller one was perched atop the tower. Most of them were improvised, said Greenfield resident Ron Niswander, who goes by the call sign K8HSF when he broadcasts over his radio.

Inside the RV, other members of the Franklin County Amateur Radio Club, which hosted the event, twisted tuning and volume knobs on a small, black transceiver until another person’s voice came over the speakers. If the voice — which could be coming from anywhere in the United States or Canada — was clear enough for the operators to make out what it was saying, they quickly jotted down the call sign that came over the air on a piece of paper and responded back with their own.

“CQ Field Day, CQ Field Day, this is Alpha Charlie One Lima, Two-A W-M-A, please copy,” responded Northfield resident Chris Dickerman, who is known by the call sign K1SNW, as a semi-garbled voice came over the speakers. The code he was broadcasting served to identify which club he belongs to, what type of equipment he is using and where he is located, according to club member Bob Solosko of Easthampton.

“It’s all part of the event to see what you can rig up and use in an emergency and who you can connect with,” he said, noting that all of the radio equipment was being powered by emergency power sources such as gas generators and solar panels. “Field Day is an exercise for ham operators to get out and run emergency situations.”

The club chose to use Poet’s Seat because it gives operators a clear transmission path in all directions. Communications can be maintained with other amateur operators in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont as well as with amateurs outside the New England area.

Solosko said that the club also helps out at events or during emergencies where ham radios are the only reliable way of communicating. When Tropical Storm Irene swept through western Massachusetts in August 2011, Solosko used his radio expertise to help the main emergency center at Greenfield Community College communicate with other shelters throughout the local area while the power was out, which prevented some cell phones and the Internet from being used.

Solosko said the club has also volunteered at various local sporting events and relay races.

“If someone were to fall and get hurt, then we can radio out for help. Or, we can call out for more food and water or more chairs if there are parts of the race that are out in a place where it’s difficult to get cell phone service and the only connection they have is us,” he said.

The club’s Field Day was open to the public, and a “Get On The Air” station was set up inside the tower to provide visitors with the opportunity to learn how to use the equipment for themselves. Solosko said he expected about 15 to 20 people to show up throughout the day. The event ran for a full 24 hours, from 2 p.m. on Saturday until 2 p.m. on Sunday.

“Everything here is what you would use in an emergency,” said Club President Chris Myers of Shelburne Falls, who was running the training station. He pointed to a battery under the table that the radio unit was set up on, and showed how the wire connected to it was connected to one of the solar panels outside. “The purpose of today is to get out and practice.”

(Editor’s Note: some spellings in this story have been changed from the originally published version.)

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