Bouncing Signals on the Moon: Amateur Radio Club Attracts Young and Experienced “Amateur” Operators



Tripp Sanders (seated) and his brother Charlie were among young amateur radio operators testing their skills and equipment at the annual International Field Day at West Point on June 26-27. The brothers are 11 and 13 years old. John H. Ward / dispatch staff

Amateur radio operators from across the Golden Triangle gathered over the weekend at the Community Counseling Services administrative campus, formerly Mary Holmes College in West Point.

By the end of Sunday, at least one operator had traveled 7,850 miles from there to Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, using Morse code.

The farthest radio contact was one of the highlights of a perfect weekend for the annual event of the day at the W5YD Amateur Radio Club at Mississippi State University.

“It took four months of planning to put all of this in place,” said Colby Stevens, vice president of the club. “It’s not just fellowship. It takes effort.

The club’s public information coordinator Caleb Rich said the event brings together individual amateur radio operators as well as amateur radio clubs to set up their portable stations and practice field operations.

“It gives them the opportunity to see how well their equipment is working or not working before an event occurs that may require this emergency response,” he said.

Field day attendees ranged from teenagers to seasoned veterans who find common ground in the fascinating world of radio communications. Tents and antennas were strewn across the parking lot with teams traveling the world to contact colleagues, as Field Day is an international event.

The Methodist pastor of Columbus, the Reverend Gene Bramlett has been involved in amateur or “amateur” radio for 10 years.

“It’s a practical hobby,” he said. “It starts with a theory that is perfected through experimentation to become real-time communication.”

A global community of amateur radio operators
Stevens gave some information on the term “ham”.

“The term comes from the beginnings of amateur radio in the early 1900s, when Morse code was the only practical means of communication in the hobby,” Stevens said. “Some of the first members of the hobby were professional Morse code manipulators who worked to send telegrams across the country and the world. When amateurs joined the hobby, they weren’t as professional at typing in Morse code and had extremely inconsistent training of their say and dahs (dots and dashes).

“This led professional keyers to label amateurs as ‘clenched operators’ as an insult because they couldn’t keep up with the speed or match the consistency of the pros,” he added. “This term was later shortened to ‘ham’ and the name has stuck ever since.”

The amateur radio hobby exercises skills from a previous generation that still find useful applications today, but you need to know a few things of the old school to connect. The Glossary of Related Terms covers the entire alphabet with overlapping terms in electronics.

“There is some overlap with electronics, but it’s simple enough that young students understand it,” Stevens said. “We have a group of home students who are operators. “

Even though the technology used by amateur radio has advanced as much as the rest of our world, radio communications are still affected by the weather.

“Weather conditions can change in no time,” Stevens said.

Lowndes County Amateur Radio Club President John Buckley shows off the distinctive reflective vest worn by an amateur radio operator in the field. He stands in front of one of the radio antennas set up in the parking lot of the former Mary Holmes College in West Point during the ARRL Field Day weekend on June 26-27. John H. Ward / dispatch staff

Lowndes County Club President John Buckley said digital fashions connect amateur radio and distribute communications between radios and computers around the world and beyond.

“Amateur radio operators can bounce a signal off the moon and talk with astronauts on the international space station,” he said.

In the world of acronyms and abbreviations, ARRL stands for American Radio Relay League, a global community of amateur radio operators.

“One of the greatest characteristics of amateur radio, in my opinion, is the ability of amateur radio operators to quickly set up a minimal station in response to a natural disaster or emergency,” Rich said.

Amateur radio operators work in tandem with public emergency service agencies to help with disaster recovery efforts that can disrupt normal communications for some time.

“We always prepare when 911 is down,” said W5YD club secretary Patrick Younes. “We are the last line of communication when everything else breaks down. When the plug is unplugged, the options are limited.

In the event of a power failure, amateur radio operators can continue transmitting as long as there is fuel available to power a generator. They wear distinctive reflective yellow vests with the title “Amateur Radio Communications” engraved on the back.

“It’s not overkill; it’s preparation, ”Younes said.

Rich said amateur radio operators have provided emergency communications to support responses to natural disasters, such as following an earthquake in Puerto Rico and following tornado outbreaks in the northern Mississippi and northeastern Georgia.

“These operators are individuals from all communities with varying backgrounds and ages – from university professors and lawyers to students and home school pilots,” he said.

As the amateur radio network spans the globe, international agreements govern the practice.

Colby said each country makes its own laws to complement the International Telecommunication Union agreement. He reported some extreme cases.

“The countries of North Korea, Yemen and South Sudan completely ban radio communications,” he said.

“Offenders are liable to the death penalty.

Bramlett summed up the mission of amateur radio from a pastor’s perspective.

“Our primary mission is to spread goodwill,” he said.

Buckley endorsed Bramlett’s statement in a practical sense.

“We are looking for ways to be as resilient as possible,” he said. “Amateur radio is the last bastion of free communication.

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