Day-long event explores ham radio operation, Morse code

  • Mark Gregory and Anne Kring demonstrate how to make a call at the “Get on the Air” station, part of the Franklin County Amateur Radio Club’s setup at Poet’s Seat Tower for Amateur Radio Field Day. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • From right, Richard Merriot, Erika Laforme and Aaron Addison, at a radio broadcast station set up inside Poet’s Seat Tower, try to connect with as many different people around the country as possible during the 24-hour period of Amateur Radio Field Day. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/23/2019 10:33:16 PM

GREENFIELD — Working out of Poet’s Seat Tower, the Franklin County Amateur Radio Club connected with radio operators in all 50 states this weekend during Amateur Radio Field Day, a 24-hour event with participation from about 30,000 clubs around the country.

First-time radio operators could test drive an amateur radio — or “ham radio,” as hobbyists call it — at the “Get on the Air” station, set up outside Poet’s Seat Tower. Club member Anne Kring showed participants how to find a frequency, then how to send a message and respond. The process was made easier by a computer with a real-time graphical representation of available frequencies, and a prepared script with the Greenfield High School radio club’s call letters made it nearly impossible to mess up on-air.

“It’s absolutely doable,” Kring said, adding that she has seen people as young as 7 get licensed for radio operation.

The airwaves were busy Sunday morning, more than halfway through the 24-hour Amateur Radio Field Day, which started at 2 p.m. on Saturday. After a few tries, Kring and club member Mark Gregory found a usably quiet frequency. Their call sign KB1MSU, “Kilo Bravo One Mike Sierra Uniform,” was picked up by someone with the sign W8FY, “Whiskey Eight Foxtrot Yankee.” The 8 in his call sign told Kring and Gregory that the other operator was in Ohio.

Call signs are assigned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The number signifies a region — 1 is for New England — and the letters are simply sequential, determined by when the sign was registered. With more advanced licenses, operators can request “vanity signs.”

Ham radio is unique among communication systems in that it does not rely on infrastructure, as phones and internet do. This makes it ideal for emergency situations. In the 2008 ice storm and Hurricane Irene in 2011, the Franklin County club provided communication for Red Cross workers, said club member Al Woodhull. More regularly, the club helps with local races like the upcoming Greenfield Triathlon and the Bridge of Flowers Road Race, which both go through areas with no cellphone service.

Field Day is primarily an opportunity for clubs to practice setting up a communication network, in case of some emergency. Technically it’s not competitive, Woodhull said, but the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) tallies clubs on the basis of how many connections they make in the 24-hour period.

Apart from the “Get on the Air” station, the Franklin County club had two others, these ones without computer monitors or prepared scripts. In Poet’s Seat Tower, Richard Merriot operated a radio dial by hand — “the old fashioned way,” he said — while Erika Laforme recorded the call signs and locations of each connection they made. They used the call sign 2AWMA, assigned by the ARRL specifically for Field Day, meaning they had two stations powered by generators (as opposed to solar or commercial power), and that they were in Western Massachusetts.

The other station, a few hundred feet north of Poet’s Seat, was communicating only with Morse code. Morse is faster and uses a narrower bandwidth, making it easier to tune, Woodhull said.

“It’s history, too,” he said.

The abbreviations that ham radio operators use all came from the Morse code used by commercial telegram operators, and persisted even after the technology moved on to voice.

“Thirty-seven might mean ‘hello,’ so you’d say ‘37 Grandma,’” Woodhull said. “The hams adopted all that stuff. … Even though they’re not so essential (since the advent of voice), it’s part of our lore.”

Reach Max Marcus at
mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.


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