The pickups parked at Brewster Sportsman’s Club have unusually large radio antennas. In the field directly behind the trucks, there are some even larger antennas big enough to transmit all over the world.
About a dozen members of the Barnstable Amateur Radio Club (BARC) are gathered at the Sportsman’s Club, speaking into microphones and typing Morse code messages. You are a HAM radio operator and Rob Leiden is the group’s information officer. He says this is a national event called Field Day. Once a year, HAM operators across the country use their equipment to prepare for what they would do in the event of a disaster.
“With simple radios with repeaters that are backed up by batteries, we can be self-contained and provide support to the Red Cross and other civil protection agencies while all other communication methods fail,” said Leiden.
Disasters happen, and Leiden has used HAM radio before in such situations.
“After Katrina, the Red Cross recruited a lot of amateur radio operators because we can not only communicate,” he said, “but also solve technical problems. They had deployed large numbers of people who needed laptops to communicate in order to cope with the disaster in general, as well as radios to keep communications going in places they would otherwise not have. “
But HAM radio is no longer just audio. Newer transceivers can transmit location data and other types of communication.
“For example, during an emergency, if you want to show an emergency manager a picture of the scene while you tell them what you see, you can do both at the same time over the radio,” said Leiden. “You don’t even have to use a laptop, the radio can do all of that and the microphone in one case has a built-in camera.”
More people than ever before are finding their way to amateur radio. There are more than 700,000 operators in the US and more than a million worldwide, according to Leiden. “Young people are finding out that there is an alternative to the Internet … This is also a path for young people with similar technical and scientific interests to get to know each other. “
One thing that has sparked interest is the fact that organizations like the American Radio Relay League run competitions and give awards to operators.
Jack Schuster is a member of the Barnstable group and often takes part in these competitions. Schuster explained the competitions by saying, “They contact people far away all over the world and they are usually 24 or 48 hour competitions. You can work outside of this period for as long as possible and try to make as many contacts as possible, as many countries as possible and then the results will be published and you will receive certificates and plaques. “
Last weekend’s Field Day was one of those competitions that focused on working under sub-optimal radio conditions. The group’s president says that during the 24-hour event, the Cape Ham operators made close to 2000 contacts to connect with people from Spain, Italy and Russia.
More information about the HAM radio at the Cape can be found at http://barnstablearc.org
Davis Land is an intern at WCAI’s production partner Atlantic Public Media.