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Amateur radio operators unite for Hamfest

June 29, 2019

FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — At the top of the hill off of Williams Crossroads, radio operators were communicating with people across the country.

They had to speak through the buzzing of radio static, but that was part of the challenge and the fun on June 22. It was the annual Hamfest Day, a day celebrating amateur radio, or ‘ham’ radio, where enthusiasts across the country were trying to get in touch with one another.

“About 35,000 ham radio operators are out on the radio today,” Wilson said. “It’s who can make the most contacts — morse code contacts are two points and voice contacts are one point.”

According to Wilson, the annual day allows ham radio enthusiasts to practice their craft and do some emergency preparedness practice as well because their types of radio can operate when electricity and internet are down.

“You put up stations the day before, you set up to prepare for emergencies,” Wilson said. “We’re on emergency power and we set up everything quickly. We can mobilize and demobilize very very fast.

“Hook up the radios, hook up to the generator and we’re on the air to help with disasters.”

Wilson and other broadcasters set up antenna thin towers on the hill, accompanied by tents and electrical generators for the team to work with. Walking around the field, they had to be careful not to trip on the wires holding everything together.

While the threat preparedness aspect of amateur radio is important, the enthusiasts enjoy a competitive and playful part of broadcast where they use their skills to speak with other broadcasters over the radio across the country, and in some cases around the globe. Wilson said they already made contact with 72 other broadcasters by about 2:42 p.m. June 22 and they will be communicating until 2 p.m. June 23.

It was a good start, but according to the broadcasters, the record is about 1,200 morse code contacts and about 800 voice contacts for a total of 2,000, which could likely only be broken if the weather conditions were just right.

“If atmospheric conditions were better we’d do really well,” said Larry Fravel, whose call letters are KAYYY.

The technicians broadcast voice or morse code to contact people also doing the same over their own radios, and Wilson said they could and have made contact with people as far away as Alaska and Europe.

“We’ve gotten Puerto Rico before, we get Alaska, Hawaii,” Wilson said. “It depends on who is operating and who is broadcasting.”

As Wilson put it, amateur radio is a passion for him and the others participating in Hamfest. The club present on June 22, the Mountaineer Amateur Radio Association, has been around for 100 years now, and Wilson hopes to celebrate the accomplishment and carry on the practice of amateur radio.

“We were formed in 1919 so this year we’re celebrating 100 years as a club,” Wilson said. “We started as 8SP and now we’re W8SP, we’re the oldest amateur radio club in West Virginia and we’re really proud of that.”

Wilson said anybody can attend meetings of the MARA, which take place at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday each month at the Central United Methodist Church. While the radio enthusiasts enjoy communicating through radio, in some cases, they do need to use a telephone.

“Most of us have had storm spotting training with the National Weather Service,” Wilson said. “If there were to be funnel clouds, we learned how to look for the base and those dark black clouds. So we’re all trained for that and we can then contact the National Weather Service — mostly by telephone.”


Information from: Times West Virginian, http://www.timeswv.com

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