The Amateur Amateur: Saturday in the Park with Ray, Part II
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
We continue the saga of my participation in the St Charles Amateur Radio
Club's Field Day activities. Last time, I described the relaxed, friendly
atmosphere at the site.
Saturday 28, 2003
The generator in the foreground was out of gas, not that it made any
difference in the 80/160 meter tent.
point I realized that Field Day radio operation had started. No one
fired a starter's pistol. No giant steam whistle blew. No one shouted
over a bullhorn. In fact, it was barely detectable that "it"
The folks who had
been chatting and eating were still chatting and eating. The only
difference was that a handful of people were now working feverishly
on the radios. Someone told me the action would be intense for the
first six hours, during which lots of contacts would be made. Then
things would slack off and there would be lots of "doubling"
and "tripling" (contacting the same stations two or three
times). By Sunday morning there would be a renewed surge of contacts.
Someone else offered me a sandwich. (Did I mention the surfeit of food?)
At least to this
amiable group, Field Day was at least as much a social gathering as
anything else. They were quite open about it. They were here to have
I couldn't really
fault that attitude. As relaxed as the atmosphere was, a lot of
planning had obviously gone into it. Things worked. Operators
followed procedures. Participants made and logged contacts. As long
as things went well, was there any reason not
to relax and
I went back to
the putative CW tent to see how things were going.
The radio was
chattering away as I entered (remember, they weren't doing CW in the
"CW tent"). Now that the gasoline generator was going, the
electric fan was working. It had, as promised, blown all of the
mosquitoes out of the tent.
were at the transceiver. One handled the microphone and the other
logged contacts. They both took notes and frequently compared them.
Every now and then they switched positions. Eric Koch, NF0Q, sat
behind them like the Captain of the Tent, occasionally offering
I asked Eric if
the operators stayed on one frequency or changed frequencies.
He said that they
started at the bottom of the 40 meter band and worked their way up.
"Only a few
stations will stay on a fixed frequency," he said. "Most
will `hunt and pounce.'"
One of the
operators tuned to a slightly higher frequency. The chatter coming
from the speaker increased dramatically.
crossed from the Extra class segment of the band into the General
class segment," he explained.
Now I got to see
some real HF artistry in action. Often we could hear a station that
we wished to contact, but we could not get through. Every time our
operator called, so did a dozen others, and our station was lost in
Eric said calmly. He went on to describe a way to catch the attention
of the desired station.
The operator did
as Eric suggested, and it worked! The other station answered
Ron Ochu, KO0Z, president of the St. Charles Amateur Radio Club and one of
"It's an old shortwave operator's trick," said Eric.
He seemed to have
dozens of such tricks, and they all worked. I can't tell you what
they were because I was sworn to an oath of secrecy before I was
allowed to leave the tent.
things were well in hand there, I moved on to the 80/160-meter tent.
Things were vastly different there. Heading this tent was Bill
Nelson, KB0BWR, and Jim Templeton, N0PTN, but there was no "captain
of the tent" supervising them. Neither was there a fan
or--ominously--any radio traffic. There was just a mild hiss of
static emanating from the transceiver.
Bill looked up at
me and frowned.
"Uh oh, it's
the reporter. We'd better behave," he said.
a... oh, never mind," I said. By this time I realized it was
futile trying to explain who I was--or wasn't. "It doesn't sound
like you're having a lot of success."
meters is dead," said Jim. "But it'll be hot tonight."
Don and Gail Griffith, KB0TGO and KB0TGP. "I need an HF transceiver as
well," said Gail. "I keep telling Don to win another one."
didn't get a fan," I said. "The guys in the CW tent have one."
Bill and Jim
smiled wistfully at the thought of having a fan, but neither
complained. The conversation did, however, turn to cool breezes and
the merits of tree shade versus tent shade.
Suddenly the generator quit!
"Out of gas," said Bill.
A few moments passed in silence.
"Aren't you going to put gas in the generator?" I asked.
said Jim. "Makes no difference on this band. At least this way
we don't have to listen to the static."
There was a
certain amount of perverse logic in his statement. I decided to leave
the sweltering tent and see what was happening at the pavilion.
"Call 911 at
about 4:30 and have an ambulance come pick us up," Bill called
I promised that I
would, but the intrepid pair concluded that it was time to take a
break and get some soda. Being such nice fellows, they stopped off at
the generator and refilled its fuel tank so their pals in the CW tent
would again have a working fan.
Back at the
picnic pavilion I found a couple sitting alone. Emboldened by my
Important Person status, I sat down with them. In retrospect, I think
they were trying to have a private conversation, and I shouldn't have
intruded. But I had already broken the ice by accidentally bumping
into a row of metal folding chairs, which fell over one at a time,
domino fashion, making a hellish racket.
cleverly caught the couple's attention, I introduced myself and began
to ask questions. I found that they were Don Griffith, KB0TGO, and
Gail Griffith, KB0TGP. We talked about the club's Field Day
arrangements. They confirmed that food was an important part of the
people in," they said. Remembering how the kids on bikes had
lingered as long as they were fed, I understood how true that was.
If you talk to
any ham operator long enough you'll find that he or she has a great
story to tell. Don and Gail were no exceptions. They told me about
their abrupt introduction to the HF bands. It seems that within a
week of passing their exams and becoming General class operators, Don
won an HF transceiver at a hamfest. The following week they were on
the HF bands at a Field Day event. They went from Technicians to HF
ops in two amazing weeks.
"I need an
HF transceiver as well," said Gail. "I keep telling Don to
win another one."
Moving on, I took
a look at the third of the club's three main stations. It had been
quite busy all day and usually had at least four people hovering
around it. Seeing that it was likely to remain that way, I moved to
join the fringes of the onlookers. I noticed two very interesting
things about the station. First, it was connected to a computer and
was running PSK31--a digital mode. And second, the main operator was
a young girl.
I had walked by
the station several times during the day. Sometimes it was operating
PSK31, while other times it was using single sideband, but the young
girl was almost always at the controls. I found out that she was just
11 and that this was her first exposure to PSK31 and to HF. She
handled it so well, though, that the station's control operator
decided to let her keep running it.
Keith Vertees's tape-measure Yagi antenna.
This was not a
fluke. The club had encouraged ham operators of all levels to get
involved in Field Day. At least half of the working operators with
whom I talked held Technician or General class licenses.
one final piece of radio equipment that I had yet to visit. I went
over to see what Keith Vertees, WA0ZSB (ex-KC0NRM), was operating. He
was running a simple 2-meter transceiver.
was nothing "simple" about it. Although there was nothing
particularly exotic about the transceiver itself, Keith had built a
completely self-contained station around it. The transceiver was in a
box that also contained batteries (and a tape player). He could
switch back and forth between a ground plane antenna and a "tape
measure" Yagi antenna that he'd built himself. Everything was
portable and could be shut down, stored, moved, and set up elsewhere
practically at a moment's notice.
Here in one
relative newcomer was the pure essence of what I believe ham radio is
supposed to be about. Keith had learned from others, come up with
some ideas of his own and applied an "I-can-do-it"
attitude. The result was his completely portable station, ideal for
In fact I was
impressed by everything I saw that day. I never ran into the
"clenched-jaw" operators I had feared I would encounter. No
one told me to get the hell out of the way, even though I did trip
over tent pegs and feed lines, and, of course, that row of folding
I could not
detect any hint of social strata, hierarchy, clique or group of "good
ol' boys." Extra class licensees operated side by side with
Technicians. Eleven-year-olds operated next to seventy-year-olds.
And everything worked!
On that happy
note I figured it was time to leave. I found Ray Martin, K0WC, and
Ron Ochu, KO0Z, thanked them and told them I'd had a great time. I
waved good bye to the radio operators and the picnickers.
As I climbed into
my car I heard Ray call, "Come back for dinner! We're having
note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant,
Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name
-- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a
rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His
wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related
Web page. Readers are invited to contact the
author via e-mail, [email protected].
© 2003 American Radio Relay League