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Local ham radio enthusiasts hold field day

By Staff | Jun 28, 2016



For more than 80 years, ham radio operators nationwide set up shop in small, sometimes remote locations in an attempt to get in touch with as many people as they can throughout the nation and the world.

This past weekend, a group of operators gathered at the concession stand at the North Fort Myers Community Park for their annual field day, where visitors got to see them show off their skills and public service, as well as train in the event we have a local emergency.

“When all else fails, ham radio prevails” is the slogan they use to describe that they do, and for the past century, amateur radio has allowed people from all walks of life contact others from throughout the world.

Mostly, they are performing a public service to the citizens in the event of an emergency or disaster, without the need of a cell phone or internet. All they need is a generator.

Larry Zimmer, president of the Greater Fort Myers Amateur Radio Club, said operators nationwide will set up set to try to contact as many people as possible, with only an antenna to transmit.

“It’s a combination emergency exercise and contest. We try to contact as many people possible in a 24-hour period,” Zimmer said. “We don’t require any infrastructure like cell phones. We can operate off an automobile battery if that’s all there is.”

During Hurricane Charley in 2004, ham radio allowed people in Southwest Florida (especially in Charlotte County) to communicate information in the field.

“Ham radios use layers in the atmosphere to bounce their signals worldwide,” said Michael Bracci, club spokesperson. “This helps people learn about electronics, meteorology, physics and other scientific disciplines.”

It also uses cutting-edge technology, using digital modes they didn’t have before, and sometimes in tandem with older forms of communications. Zimmer used his computerized system with an old-fashioned Morse code transmitter to send verbal and code communication.

As the operators contacted others throughout the country, a map of the United States and Canada showed on the computer screen, which darkened whenever they hit a region. The idea is to darken the entire map, which they have nearly done every year, missing only northern New York and a western region in 2015.

Within an hour, much of the southeastern section of country will filled in, but weather did create a problem, as lightning forced them to shut down briefly. A few years ago, lightning hit an antenna on the football field, causing a radio to go up in smoke.

Ham radio has even become a father-and-son activity. Brian Roberts, from Alva, worked in communications when he served in the Marine Corps. He got into ham radio after leaving the military and has passed that love to his son, Cameron, 10, who is studying for his transmission license.

“I use my brain a lot and the more technological side of ham radio. I’ve contacted more than 100 countries and it ranges from Andora to South America,” Roberts said.

Laing Batchelor and his wife, Virginia, of Cape Coral, have done ham radio since 1968. He said he just wanted to get on the air and talking to people, and has ended up talking to everyone, worldwide.

“I like talking to countries around the world. I have worked 268 contacts out 315. I enjoy contests like this,” Batchelor said. “We have reached the point where we count our years in solar cycles.”

Batchelor said the 11-year solar cycle is down at one of its lowest levels. It will take another five years or so before they reach their peak again.

The operators were there from 2 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday.