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It's called "field day"

The term "HAM" is a nickname for those who participate in the hobby called amateur radio.  The origin of that term is not known to us.  The term "amateur" these days means "one who is not professional."  Doesn't know much about the subject in question.  
  That was not its original meaning.
  "Amateur" comes to us from Latin.  Ama means "you love.". Amateurs in ancient times were people who loved a subject so much that they often became the top experts in that field.

   Every year in June, HAMs generate disaster.  Like some militia, they head out into the boondocks, set up emergency radio stations and practice for the next cataclysmic natural or man-made event.
   If you pay attention to such things, you will find that the last communications which come out of any stressed area are amateur radio communications.  Most people think cell phones have taken over that job, but it's not entirely true.  Direct satellite access communications do indeed work under some of the worst conditions, but cell phones using retransmit links (what HAMs call "repeaters") are usually out of service during certain kinds of disasters, like widespread fire and big windstorms.  The relay station chain often goes down.  And, in the case of atmospheric nuclear attack, what is known as the "EMR pulse" destroys most high-tech electronic gadgets.  Vacuum tube radios -- still in the closets of many amateur radio operators -- are usually not affected by this sort of thing.  

   HAMs, on field day, train for disaster work.  They set up battery and generator powered radio stations out in the sticks and practice the techniques of mass message traffic handling.
   That is why the government sets aside certain portions of the radio spectrum for these people.  Floods, fires, windstorms, blizzards or nuclear attack, these people provide a local, regional and national emergency communications backup system that doesn't cost the taxpayer a dime. They do it because they love to do it.  They are amateurs in the original meaning of the term.

On a recent June day, a small group of HAMs from the Portland area assembled at the home of the Kruse family, high above Henry Hagg Lake, south of Forest Grove.  They brought in their trailers and their tents and their batteries and their radio gear, put up all sorts of small and large, metal tube and wire antennas, and communicated with other radio amateur groups.  They talked locally on the VHF bands, to satellites on the UHF bands, and to a wide chunk of America and beyond on the HF bands. (Very High Frequency, Ultra High Frequency, High Frequency)  They taught each other the tricks of the trade, had a fine time, and built a base of working interactive ability that God forbid we ever have to use again.  

But if we do, they will be there.  

Learn how to become a Ham by clicking here.
© 2002 Oregon Magazine  Text by KE7DC.  Photos suppled by N7PYU

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