A group of local amateur radio operators showed last weekend that when all else fails, they will be able to communicate with others around the world.
Hulbert-based amateur radio club Vm Okla Nan Ola participated in the American Radio Relay League Field Day, a national amateur radio exercise. The group has separated from any commercial power, relying only on batteries and solar panels, to exchange information with other operators across the United States and around the world.
“We try to show that we are an asset when all else fails,” said Jeff Sharrock. “We can communicate when there are no cell phone towers, no commercial electricity, no Internet; we still have the capacity to help our region get information from and to people.
The field day lasted 24 hours, as thousands of hams from across the country established temporary stations to demonstrate skin and service, and the ability to work in any conditions from almost no any place.
The club split into teams to manage four transceivers to communicate with other operators. One group was on a 6 meter band radio, which operates on a high frequency band. Sharrock said it was generally not a long-range frequency, as it requires bending radio waves over the high-frequency channels of the ionosphere – part of Earth’s upper atmosphere – and returning to Earth. The group tracks the right conditions for working in certain locations at certain times of the day and uses propagation analysis to do so.
“We had a class on this earlier today on how to make a spread analyst using the Voice of America program they created to broadcast across the country beyond the Iron Curtain for the Cold War, ”Sharrock said. “So all of this good math and study to figure out how to use the ionosphere – the high frequency spectrum – to send radio waves back to Earth. That’s what we’re doing.
Sharrock used old-fashioned Morse code to connect with other operators. While many of them use computers to send and decode messages, he did it by hand. He said it’s extremely efficient because it relies on very narrow bandwidth.
“They can usually hear me when I’m only using 5 watts of power – as much as that would power a flashlight. I just worked with someone in Ontario, ”he said. “It wasn’t even a big deal. They could hear me very well.
They also used binary phase shift modulation, and another station used a digital mode developed by astrophysicist Joe Taylor, in which they are able to bounce radio waves off the moon. Each of the four stations operated by the club had their pros and cons, but the club used them all simultaneously for 24 hours.
“We’re not going to stop at 2 am because we’re tired,” Sharrock said. “We’re going to have four until the end. There are a lot of people who use it more as just an outing, so they’ll barbecue and have fun during the day and then go home. Then you’ve got some others who are die-hard and really want to push the boundaries, and they’ll drop in there at 2, 3, and 4 in the morning.
When a club hooks up with someone, whether that person is in Washington State or South Florida, they swap the size and class of their clubs and locations. This could be the end of the exchange, or they could deepen their discussions on weather conditions or things of that nature.
In April, the club moved outside the Five Civilized Tribes Museum for a special day in the field and started talking with different people who called back about American Indian Code Talkers. Sharrock said they were proud to speak about the different tribes involved in WWI and WWII as code speakers to coordinate attacks and prevent German forces who were eavesdropping on field phones from stealing information.
He said that it was the Choctaws that were first used in World War I and then later the Navajo and Comanches were used in World War II.
“It was another public service that we could provide – a bit of history that we can be proud of about your state and these great American veterans,” he said. “Back then, the Choctaw – a lot of them were not allowed to vote. They lacked citizenship, and their mother tongue was suppressed by government-run schools, essentially trying to assimilate them into American culture as they viewed it. So they didn’t want them to learn or speak Choctaw, but yet it saved the day.
To be involved
Those interested in learning more about amateur radio can contact Sherrock at [email protected]