Morse code radio operator Gary Babcock, left, communicates with other stations Saturday afternoon as Ryan Burden watches during the National Association for Amateur Radio Field Day. (Jill McLaughlin Photo)
Shaded beneath tents Saturday at Stapp Parade Field at New Mexico Military Institute, ham radio operators joined with more than 35,000 other stations around the globe for a 24-hour amateur radio marathon.
Pecos Valley Amateur Radio Club members set up four remote stations and five temporary antennas, one tracking satellite and several radios.
“We will be able to talk to anyplace in the world,” said Garry Blosser.
Blosser sat at a Gota, or “Get on the Air” station for a two-hour stretch in 105-degree heat as he reached out to dozens of operators in places reaching from Virginia to Canada and California. The operators, who might typically exchange a few words and some conversation under other circumstances, were quickly catching each other’s contact information before moving along.
The idea during the event was to contact as many other stations as possible and lear to operate radio gear in abnormal situations and less-than-optimal conditions. It was also an opportunity for the public to visit with the operators and see what they do.
“It’s an opportunity for folks to come and see what we do as far as emergency response,” said participant Jim Tucker, prior to the event.
The club had equipment up and running starting just after noon. The contest will continue until noon today.
By 3:10 p.m., the club had collected more than 70 contacts. Each club gains points for for different radio operations, such as running on emergency power and using different bands. In one tent, a computer was tracking all communications and connections.
“Some bands are easier at night, it just depends,” Blosser said.
Digital operator Kevin Hogan said he was encountering difficulty communicating with other operators through his system.
“I can hear them but I’m not getting back to them,” Hogan said.
One tent set-up held a laptop connected to a radio and satellite feed, with information being fed to it through a tracking antenna. The radio was tracking the International Space Station.
Gary Babcock, a Morse Code radio operator, was one of the first to begin transmitting Saturday. His extensive system exploded with the sound of “dits” and “dahs” as he tuned knobs and tracked signals.
Morse Code is popular among amateur radio operators. More people are learning now than ever, Babcock said.
“It’s alive and well,” he said. “You have to be proficient at it, that’s the key.”
The club participates every year in the field day event, but mostly for the enjoyment.
“Our primary goal is for emergency communications,” Blosser said. “Everything else is fun. We do this because we want to. This is to demonstrate we can go out of our comfort zone and talk to people.”
Using digital, high-frequency and repeaters, satellite, and by connecting to the state megalink repeaters, the local operators can link to others throughout New Mexico, west and southwest Texas, east Arizona and southern Colorado.
“That’s how spread out our system is,” Blosser said.
Six club members were called up to provide emergency radio assistance during the Ruidoso-area fire last year, Blosser said.
Amateur radio frequencies are the last platform in the useable radio spectrum where operators can develop and experiment with wireless communications. The Amateur Radio Service includes a worldwide community of licensed operators using airwaves with several means of communications.