By Regina Elling
Long before there was Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn or even Skype, people had found various ways to connect with each without meeting personally. One of the oldest, most established ways has been through amateur radio.
Amateur radio operators—usually referred to as “hams”—have long communicated with each other without the benefit of the Internet, cellphone towers or other infrastructure. How they accomplish this was showcased this past weekend, when ROARS, the Ramona Outback Amateur Radio Society, participated in an event held simultaneously across the nation and simply called “Field Day.”
“The goal of Field Day is for members of each ham radio club to make as many contacts over the radio as possible in 24 hours,” said Richard Elling, a local ham. “Another goal is for the public to learn what we do, why we do it, how we do it, and try it out for themselves.”
One of the things hams are known for is their ability to provide communications in times of emergency or disaster, when the usual lines of communication are unavailable. During the Ramona wildfires, for example, hams provided backup communications for everything from the American Red Cross to the Salvation Army and more.
Although the world of ham radio may appear to be a secret society requiring only highly technical people, the reality, as proven on Field Day, is that even youngsters can learn to talk on the amateur radio stations, and no one is too old to enjoy the hobby, either.
As local hams and visitors gathered at Fire Station 82 in Ramona off Dye Road, some Boy Scouts were testing the airwaves and the equipment as they worked toward their badges.
“I’ve already talked to someone in Westminster, California,” said an excited 10-year-old Logan Webb.
“And I’ve talked to Irvine,” added 13-year-old Michael Baldauf.
Along with fellow Scout Alex Franklin, the boys were eager to discuss more of the day’s contacts. But the radio called, and they quickly picked up their microphones and returned to work, making contact with hams across the area.
Meanwhile, at another table, Marvin Foster and his wife, Nita, were busy meeting ROARS members.
“I got my ham license in the early ‘80s,” he said. “I was really into it, but the past 10 years I’ve been out of it. I’m here to reconnect and get back into it.”
Members of ROARS were happy to hear it. Although the group isn’t large, members tend to have strong bonds; after all, they know they can rely on each other in an emergency.
Ken Donham has been a ham since the ‘90s, and has barely missed a Field Day since.
“It’s a good experience—the learning, the teamwork and, of course, the social side of it,” he said.
He was especially pleased to see the youngsters and their families participating in this year’s event.
“We can always use more members. And it’s great to keep ham radio going,” he added.
The hams worked through the night, making contacts and keeping their operating skills up to date. They hope that Field Day showed Ramona residents what they contribute, and they encourage anyone, of any age, interested in ham radio to attend the next ROARS meeting, July 25 at 7 p.m. in the Ramona Library Community Room or visit www.roars.net.