Amateur radio takes center stage at the Big E

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09/15/2022

by Bob Inderbitzen, QL1R

The Big E, “New England’s Great State Fair”, begins Friday, September 16, 2022 and includes Big E Projecta 17-day amateur radio exhibition that runs until October 2, 2022. The fair, held in West Springfield, Massachusetts, is the largest agricultural event on the East Coast and the sixth largest fair in the country..

Plan for Project Big E started in 2021 by Larry Krainson, W1AST, ARRL Western Massachusetts Chapter Affiliate Clubs Coordinator and President of the Hampden County Radio Association (UNHCR), as well as its members and other interested persons. They envisioned an exhibit that would demonstrate the many aspects of modern amateur radio and provide an opportunity for future amateur radio operators to sign up for information and courses in their area.

“If only one-tenth of one percent of the attendees signed up for ham lessons, that would be 1,600 names to distribute to every radio club in New England,” Krainson said. “We would all benefit and develop amateur radio,” he added.

HCRA will operate special event station N1E during the 17-day event. A gift of Remote ham radio (RHR) will allow N1E to access remote stations throughout the event.

Additional event highlights will include:

  • An emergency communications display (EmComm)
  • D-STAR and/or other digital demo in mobile mode
  • Large-screen digital RF modes
  • SSB, CW and digital modes
  • Demonstrations of portable stations for field operations, such as Parks on the Air (POTA) and Summits on the Air (SOTA)
  • Young people on amateur radio

A related effort includes The BIG E Space Chat involving scheduled amateur radio contact from the fair with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The contact is organized by Amateur radio on the International Space Station (ARISS). As of press time, the contact is set to take place in the Big E Arena between September 27-29. The exact date and time will only be known once a decision is made by NASA about a week before the event.

A dozen young people associated with New England Sci-Tech (NEST), a STEM learning and creation center in Natick, Massachusetts, has been selected to participate in the BIG E Space Chat. They will each be able to ask the astronaut questions which will be relayed via an ARISS telebridge ground station – an amateur radio station that will establish radio contact with the ISS and then relay the signals to the group of Big E students.

In addition to making unique contact from The Big E with an astronaut in space, students participate in in-person and virtual educational activities over a 12-month period. These experiences include building and launching an entry-level model rocket, obtaining an amateur radio license, attending a basic electronics course, and learning about astronomy, communications satellite and other space-related sciences.

ARISS Mentor and ARRL New England Division Director Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC, provides overall coordination between ARISS and the science education curriculum component provided by NEST. Ray Lajoie, AA1SE, is responsible for pre-contact programming as well as audio-video stage setup at the Big E Arena, a performance venue that can accommodate up to 3,000 people with additional standing capacity.

A number of other organizations – both local and international – will play a vital role in ensuring successful contact with the ISS from The Big E site. A 45-minute pre-contact program will include inspirational videos on the ISS, space and previous contacts. Introductory remarks will be made by Kemmerer; Gene Cassidy, President and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition; ARRL CEO David Minster, NA2AA, and NEST President Bob Phinney, K5TEC.

The Big E Project received a scholarship from Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC), a private foundation that ssupports the science and technology of amateur radio and digital communication.

In 2021, The Big E had 1.5 million visitors and over 1.6 million visitors in 2019. Visit the Big website for more information. For more information on the Big E project, visit ARRL New England Division website.

— Thanks to ARRL New England Deputy Division Manager Phil Temples, K9HI, for some of the information in this article.


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