WARNER ROBINS — Ham radio enthusiast Dave Stewart knows his hobby can be hard to explain to a generation brought up in the Internet Age.
He recalled a time when he made a presentation to a Cub Scout gathering.
“I told them they could use radio to contact kids in Europe and talk to them about scouting, and one of the Cub Scouts raised his hand and said, ‘Why don’t you just e-mail them?’’’
“I said, ‘Because I don’t have their e-mail addresses,’’’ said Stewart. “With ham radio you don’t need an address.”
Stewart was one of the organizers of Warner Robins’ version of Field Day, an annual 24-hour broadcasting blitz that involves amateur radio operators in every state and beyond. Field Day is run by the American Radio Relay League, the national association for amateur radio in the United States.
Members of Warner Robins’ two ham radio clubs set up their equipment in a picnic pavilion at Central Baptist Church on Lake Joy Road. Field Day officially began at 2 p.m. Saturday and ended at 2 p.m. Sunday. The goal of the participants was to contact as many other amateur radio stations as possible during that 24-hour period.
“Field Day is not about chatting,” Stewart explained. “This is about making contact and exchanging a little bit of information so we know we have the ability of communicate. ... It’s a preparedness drill.”
Ham radio operators want to be prepared for a disaster such as a hurricane or an earthquake. They pride themselves on their volunteer spirit and their ability to establish long-distance communication when power lines and cell phone networks are knocked out.
For this reason, Field Day rules require all equipment to be portable.
At the Central Baptist site, electricity came from a generator truck provided by the Air Force, as well as a solar panel. Two rigid beam antennas were attached to a tower sitting on a trailer. Eight dipole antennas — essentially long wires — were strung between the high branches of pine trees in the area surrounding the pavilion. (The radio operators used something called a spud gun to get them up there.)
But Field Day is more than a drill. It’s an opportunity for newbies to learn about a hobby that’s been around more than 100 years.
Eleven-year-old Jason Kalmbach took advantage of the opportunity. He visited the pavilion after attending Sunday services at Central Baptist and sat at what the ham operators called the GOTA station — short for Get On the Air.
“Kilo Juliet four Oscar,” said Jason into the microphone he held in his palm. ”Please come back.”
Jason said ham radio is pretty fun.
“I like to talk to people and see how far you can get.”
About 100 people, including licensed radio operators and visitors, took part in Warner Robins’ Field Day activities.
The equipment at the GOTA station belonged to Bill Elliott, who got involved in amateur radio as a Boy Scout in 1963.
His enthusiasm for the hobby hasn’t waned — he spent Friday night and Saturday night at the Field Day site in a hammock. He was up until 4 a.m. Sunday trying to raise other operators on the radio.
Elliott said that when 2 p.m. Sunday rolled around, “I’m going to throw it all in the car, go home, take a good hot shower and go to bed.”
By the end of Field Day the Warner Robins group had logged 1,001 contacts, including stations in every state except South Dakota. Top-scoring Field Day groups will have their names published in the ARRL magazine.