MURRAY – Members of the Murray State University Amateur Radio Club once again participated in the annual American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Field Day Saturday and Sunday, attracting a large turnout to the Arboretum at Murray State despite sporadic stormy weather.

According to its website, the ARRL is the national association for amateur radio in the U.S., representing over 170,000 FCC-licensed amateurs. The ARRL is the primary source of information about what is going on in the communication area often called “ham radio.” The Amateur Radio Service has been around for a century, and in that time, it’s grown into a worldwide community of licensed operators using the airwaves with every conceivable means of communications technology, the ARRL said.

ARRL-affiliated clubs such as the one at Murray State use the field day, held for 24 hours straight every fourth weekend in June, as an opportunity to practice their emergency response capabilities and teach the general public about the importance of ham radio. Amateur radio broadcasts are used in all kinds of situations, but are perhaps most important during disasters like the January 2009 ice storm, which rendered many cell phone towers and other modern forms of communication unusable in western Kentucky for several days.

As part of the ARRL Field Day, clubs participate in a  contest to try to contact as many stations as possible. Richard Palmer, the spokesman for the MSU ARC, said the club tries to contact every U.S. state and Canadian province.

“The contest part is simply to contact as many other stations as possible and to learn to operate our radio gear in abnormal situations and less than optimal conditions,” the ARRL website says. “We use these same skills when we help with events such as marathons and bike-a-thons; fund-raisers such as walk-a-thons; celebrations such as parades; and exhibits at fairs, malls and museums — these are all large, preplanned, non-emergency activities. But despite the development of very complex, modern communications systems — or maybe because they ARE so complex — ham radio has been called into action again and again to provide communications in crises when it really matters. Amateur Radio people (also called ‘hams’) are well known for our communications support in real disaster and post-disaster situations.”

Joe Wray, who lives north of Paris Landing, Tennessee and has operated ham radios and satellites for many years, said Saturday was the first time the local club had succeeded in reaching a satellite during the field day. Club member Bill Call said that gave them an extra 100 points on their score.

“A satellite contact is a little more difficult (than a terrestrial contact) because you’ve got the thing passing across in the sky,” Wray said. “Not that many people (are able to do it).”

Palmer said that though the threat of thunderstorms loomed on Saturday, most of the day was sunny and the afternoon’s rain and wind didn’t hinder the club where they had their equipment set up at the arboretum’s pavilion. Tracy McKinney, the current president of the MSU ARC, concurred.

“Considering the weather conditions, we’ve had a great turnout with club members,” McKinney said. “Our contacts have not been as strong as we’d like for them to be … but that’s part of it. If we were involved in an emergency where we had to (rely on ham radios), things are not always going to be in a perfect environment.

“We’re really thrilled with the turnout that we do have, and it’s about fun and fellowship and testing our equipment and making sure it works properly and things like that.”

McKinney said he had had an interest in ham radio for a long time and became involved in the club in the last year-and-a-half.

“I’ve just now made the time,” he said. “You get to the point where you either do it or give it up. I jumped in with their encouragement, the local club. They offer classes because there are three different levels of license you can obtain, and with those three different levels, you get different privileges on the bands. So you can communicate on (radio frequencies) HF (high frequency) and VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency) and so forth. It’s a cool thing, in my book.”

Palmer said that since the whole point of the field day is to simulate the conditions under which hams might need to function during an emergency or disaster, the communications equipment was powered “off the grid” without any connection to electric utilities. He said the equipment was hooked up to four deep cycle batteries, which were lent to the club by Interstate Batteries for the field day exercises. A solar panel was used as well, he said.

“It shows the community that we can handle ourselves in an emergency and in a situation where there isn’t power,” Palmer said. “I think that’s important for people to know as much bad weather as we’ve had over the last few weeks.”

Palmer said the only state the club was unable to reach was Alaska, and they also reached five out of 10 Canadian provinces. He said this was a significant improvement over last year.

Palmer added that the club was pleased with the event’s youth participation and that Calloway County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes and his wife, Mary Beth, attended, as well as County Magistrate Paul Rister.

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