Ron Dahle shouldered his PVC potato gun and fired another burst of compressed air at the branch of a large North Carolina pine. His shot propelled a plastic projectile attached to a fishing line. A fishing reel mounted atop the caster fed the line like a well-trained angler. The goal was to cause the projectile to thread the fishing line up and down the other side of the limb. Reaching the right limb allowed him and his fellow radio enthusiasts to hoist the antenna wire high up the tree. This was the first part of creating a loop antenna. To complete the project, the process had to be repeated on another large tree nearby.
Dahle is president of the Cape Fear Amateur Radio Society, a 130-member strong amateur radio organization in Cumberland County. CFARS regularly steps in to assist local emergency responders with radio communication services during hurricanes, blizzards, or other community crises. When the call comes in, members move into local disaster shelters and provide communication via amateur radios, while other forms of communication may have been affected by blackouts.
Dahle and his compatriots recently spent a hot Friday afternoon setting up antennae in preparation for the next day’s Field Day, an annual event testing the club’s ability to set up and communicate with other amateur radio organizations in across the United States and Canada.
“This was a readiness exercise to determine CFARS’ ability to provide communications support to the community during emergency and disaster operations,” Dahle said. He stressed that this was not a contest to see how many radio contacts were made, although the contacts were tracked and listed. “There are many varied competitions throughout the year in different communication disciplines where the main focus is purely on numbers.”
CFARS held its annual field day Saturday-Sunday June 25-26 on the Hope Mills Golfview Greenway walking trail. The field day extends over 24 continuous hours, from Saturday 2 p.m. to Sunday 2 p.m. The event is held under the auspices of the American Radio Relay League, the national association of radio amateurs in the United States founded in 1914.
This was the first year that CFARS hosted the event at the Hope Mills Walking Trail. In the past, CFARS Field Day was held at Methodist University, which also housed the group’s relay. The former Chancellor of the University was a member of CFARS.
Among the missions of the ARRL is the promotion and recruitment of people into the amateur radio hobby. But another key task of the ARRL is to protect the radio frequencies used by amateur radio organizations and ensure that they remain available to the public. Radio frequencies are limited and someone is always fighting for radio frequencies controlled by the Federal Communications Commission.
The annual readiness exercise and Field Day are held in the United States, Canada and even some places around the world can participate. It takes place on the fourth full weekend of June. In addition to testing their ability to function properly in an emergency, amateur radio operators try to establish voice or Morse code contact with as many other amateur radio operators as possible.
The CFARS configuration at the Golfview Greenway site included a Morse code station, a Get-On-The-Air station and a voice communication station. A GOTA station allows people without a radio license or newly licensed people to talk and connect with someone on amateur radio. It gives someone the chance to experience radio communication firsthand.
The ARRL website provided 2,022 Field Day locations across the United States for interested citizens or news media. In North Carolina alone, there were dozens of sites, including Dublin, Calabash, New Bern, Jacksonville, Robbins, Albemarle atop Morrow Mountain and in the West Jefferson Mountains, among many others.
According to George Davenport, current vice president and event coordinator, local radio enthusiasts established CFARS as a non-profit organization in 1976 with 31 members. Davenport joined CFARS in 2016 after earning his FCC-required license. A year later, the club asked him to help coordinate their Field Day. Since then, he coordinates the event.
“I got interested in ham radio after I joined a special forces Facebook page,” Davenport said.
The page identified friends and colleagues in the special forces who were amateur radio operators. “I did some research and found CFARS,” he said.
Both Davenport and Dahle are retired from the military and were first introduced to radio communications as Green Berets. Davenport’s introduction to communications came when he was trained on a special forces team. Dahle, a retired command sergeant major, says the early part of his career was spent in communications, but it tapered off as he rose through the ranks to leadership positions. .
But when Dahle was around 70, he needed an outlet for what he describes as “his creativity”.
He joined CFARS in 2018 after obtaining his FCC license.
“Amateur radio and Morse code was a natural path for me,” he said.
Dahle, who describes himself as process-oriented and regimented, says one field of success is knowing the club has performed to expected standards. He set these standards by noting whether the equipment stood up
throughout the exercise, whether the club properly dealt with unforeseen problems, if any, and whether the club left the pitch in the same condition as they found it.
For Davenport, a successful field day has many faces.
“It should be a learning experience for everyone involved,” he said.
It should have a wide range of tasks and activities that encourage member participation, and the event should meet all of its operational objectives.
But, since one of his other goals is to generate greater interest and participation in the hobby, Davenport thinks a successful field day should be a “fun activity.”