Section Index Owatonna Steele County Amateur Radio 27-Jun-2017

Amateur radio operators have a "field day"
in Owatonna this weekend

Jun 26, 2017

Willow Creek played host to amateur radio operators during “Field Day” this weekend.

Since 1933, ham radio operators across North America have established temporary radio stations in public during Field Day to showcase the science and skill of amateur radio. The event, which officially began at 1 p.m. Saturday and ran the next 24 hours, has been at numerous locations throughout Steele County over the years, but — as has been the case the past few years — was again held outside Willow Creek this year.

Dale Carlson and other amateur radio operators had to rig up an antenna during Field Day Saturday outside Willow Creek.

During field day, hams set up radios in unusual places as an exercise in emergency preparedness, but it’s also a competition, as well as a chance for fellowship with others sharing a similar predilection for amateur radio, said Dale Carlson, who has been a ham since 1975, when he was 14.

“I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve done Field Day, but it’s a lot of fun, and every year is a little different,” said Carlson.

Though “it usually slows down late at night, you can talk to people around the world,” he said. In fact, he once communicated from northern Minnesota with individuals in Antarctica during a Field Day while he was in college, the farthest place he’s ever reached.

As a general rule, higher frequencies are more useful during the day, but they fade at night, he said. Then, the lower frequencies, which are virtually useless during the day, take center stage at night and can stretch across the globe.

“We’re always trying to improve and make things more efficient, in case we would have an emergency,” he said.

Indeed, Field Day is a chance to experiment.

For example, Carlson was attempting to use a new antenna Saturday, he said.

“At home, I don’t have a lot of space to put up big antennas, so this is fun for me to play around a little bit,” said Carlson.

On Field Day, he tries to hit every state, as well as all the Canadian provinces, he said. Bizarrely enough, some of the closest states can be the hardest to establish a connection, like North Dakota. Carlson “was always interested in radio,” and he used to take apart transistor radios and television sets, but his cousin owned a massive mobile radio, which he brought one summer to Carlson’s uncle’s house, he said. His cousin was able to reach a person in South Dakota, and from that point “I was hooked.” A hobby for Carlson is trying to reach as far as he can with a radio of low power, he said. For example, “I have a five-watt radio that I’ve talked to people in Europe and South America with.”

Though Field Day is about competition, camaraderie, and experimentation, it's also an emergency preparedness exercise.

Another member of the Owatonna Steele County Amateur Radio Club, or O.S.C.A.R., is Owatonna’s Kris Christenson, who has made several appearances at Field Day and returned again Saturday. Though he’s “always enjoyed electronics,” Christenson first began toying with amateur radio 13 years ago, he said. In the beginning, his favorite element was the competition, but it’s become “more about camaraderie.” He’s been able to “go halfway around the world” in terms of radio communication, and “it’s all about band conditions,” he said. “Radio signals bounce off the ionosphere for communication.”

“You never know what you’re going to hear, or who is going to hear you,” he added. “That’s the beauty of it.”

In terms of competition, however, Matt Arthur “is our number-one point-getter,” mostly due to Arthur’s alacrity with Morse code, he said. “He can hear things in Morse code I could never hear.” Making Arthur’s aplomb all the more impressive is the fact he’s blind. Arthur, Ellendale, has been a licensed ham operator for 35 years, but “I’ve been interested in it even longer than that,” he said. “The hobby has been really good for me.” Not only has it provided him a unique skill, “I’ve made a lot of good friends,” he said. “It’s been a real value to me to be into ham radio.”

He learned Morse code by listening to tapes, memorizing, and practicing, he said. “It’s like another language, but I’m really glad I (learned) it, because it’s been very useful,” and “I think playing music — I play guitar, and I used to play accordion — has helped me with Morse code.” Arthur has always loved radio, and it’s a passion that’s never attenuated through the decades, he said. “I have an antique setup from the 50s at my house I love to maintain.”

Other hams in the area are welcome to join members of O.S.C.A.R. during their monthly meetings at The Kitchen, he added. They meet at 9 a.m. on the second Tuesday each month, and “everybody is welcome.”

Courtesy of the Owatonna People's Press

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