HAM Radio 101

First Field Day for NØAX

Well, this is different!

When you are just getting started in ham radio, this “Field Day” thing is a Big Mystery. Sometime in late winter, the club chatter starts up and discussions begin about what will happen “this year” as compared to “last year.” You may get signed up or “volunteered” to help with one thing or another and, suddenly, you are part of the team! This is a good thing, however you arrive at the destination.

In my case, the club was the Parkway West Radio Club, WBØDQI, and I was the proverbial new Novice licensee in the summer of 1973. Not knowing exactly what I was getting into, I “volunteered” my family’s backyard and garage so “the radio club could operate.” Let’s just say that my family was “surprised” when my radio buddies showed up with equipment, cables, and a big vertical antenna that required pounding a pipe in the ground to mount it on. (Which we couldn’t extract afterward. It’s still in the ground about six inches down.) It was a lot of fun for me, and my sisters still talk about it.

Okay, so that’s what Field Day is. Next stop, college. 

Now knowing a lot more about ham radio in general and Field Day in particular, I was anxious to have some fun with the WØEEE club at the University of MO/Rolla. Even though it was summer semester, there was an active group who recruited a geophysics professor with a farm and a research truck (including a generator) for our operating location a few miles outside of town. I remember we put on a 2A operation with the phone station in the air-conditioned research truck and the CW station in the back of a VW Bug owned by my friend, Jerry, WAØACF (see photo). 

We took the seats out and turned them around, which wasn’t the most comfortable thing but it worked. We operated for the full 24 hours, even working I3MMM on 40 meters. Not that I remember the QSO or anything.

Could I tell you the final score? No idea. I wish I could say that we had a coordinated food operation and pre-planned shifts, but frequent trips to the local fast-food places were probably the rule. Anybody who showed up with a call sign got pressed into service. Our biggest accomplishment was keeping the paper logs and getting the results sent in to HQ. I think. In subsequent years, WØEEE Field Days were conducted from the football field press box (great spot for those antennas) and even right on the campus’ main quad—we just picked up the entire operating desk and carried it outside!

Field Day continues to be an important part of my ham radio experience, and I think I’ve only missed one or two since getting my license in 1972. I’ve lost count of how many different clubs and groups I’ve worked with. I’ve operated on the shore of Puget Sound and from a stormy mountaintop in sight of Devil’s Tower. There have been a couple of solo efforts and even a mobile, which I will repeat this year in support of my local club.

What is important for those of us who have been engaging in Field Day for a long time, I think, is to keep a lookout for someone just getting their feet wet in ham radio. They need that helping hand to find a spot in the team effort, some coaching on the air, and a big “way to go” along the way. Maybe they can help with the organization, take charge of setting up an operating position and antennas, and be sure the results are submitted.

We can learn from the new folks as well. Maybe they can show us how to use Digital Voice on the new repeater. Maybe they can make a satellite QSO with their handheld and portable beam or set up a solar QRP station for those bonus alternative energy points. Maybe they are handy with generators, or tents, or ropes from some other hobby or work experience. We all have something to contribute if only someone will take the time to accept it!

Field Day Planning Tip: The general public has no idea what “Field Day” means. That big sign you make that reads “Amateur Radio Field Day” might as well be in hieroglyphics. If you are trying to attract the public to demonstrate ham radio, keep in mind that most people feel they need to be invited to approach an unfamiliar group, so advertise with something they do understand: Open House. “Amateur Radio Open House—Field Day” (and “free cookies and coffee”) makes it clear they are welcome and encouraged to come see what’s going on!

Field Day is so many things to so many people—competitive operating, an emergency communications exercise, a club picnic or school club event, an opportunity for public outreach, a backpacking trip, a road trip in the car, or putting a home station to work. Be sure you enjoy it, pass along the good wishes to other Field Day operators, and experience one of the best things ham radio has to offer! CQ FD!

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