By Jennifer Gallus
HOWARD LAKE, MN - When the weather warms up, several “hams” will descend upon Howard Lake’s Memorial Park, and erect a sign that reads WøWCR above a collection of portable radios.
To any amateur radio operator that first sentence makes perfect sense, and indicates that the Wright County Amateur Radio Society will be in town to conduct its annual field day event.
Each year, the WøWCR, or Wright County Amateur Radio Society, conducts a two-day emergency communications drill in a different area of the county.
“Hams” is short for ham radio operators, which is another name for amateur radio. An estimated six million people throughout the world are involved in amateur radio.
Howard Lake has the opportunity to host the field day this upcoming year, which is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 27 and 28, according to Lee Lorentz, club president of the society.
Lorentz has been a ham radio operator since 1975, and has claim to confirmed contacts in 212 countries so far.
“My call sign is WBøTRA,” Lorentz said. “A call sign is often one word, and is assigned by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).”
The prefix, Lorentz explained, indicates where the person is transmitting from in the world. Any call signs that begin with a W, K, N, and some A prefixes, but not all, indicate that transmission is from the US.
The number in the middle of the call sign gives a regional hint as to where the transmission is coming from within the US. Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Missouri, and Kansas are indicated by the number ø.
Ham radio provides the broadest and most powerful wireless communications capability available to any private citizen anywhere in the world, according to the nationwide amateur radio organization Amateur Radio Relay League.
“Ham radio is the only hobby, that I know of, that requires a federal license,” Lorentz laughed.
There is nothing amateur about the skills an amateur radio operator must posses in order to become licensed. Rather, “amateur” indicates that communications are not allowed to be made for commercial or money-making purposes.
“Because we’re putting radio signals through the air, we have to make sure that we don’t interfere with other services,” Lorentz explained. “We would be really unpopular if we sent a signal on top of, say, the Channel 4 television service.”
There are some similarities between CB operators and hams, but CBs are only allowed to operate at 5 watts, while hams can run at 1,500 watts, which is much more power and many more frequencies.
The more watts, the further the transmission can travel. A typical CB can cover about 10 to 15 miles, while a ham operator can make contacts across the nation and into other countries.
Aside from meeting strangers, which is something Lorentz enjoys about the hobby, ham radio operators provide many important services in times of natural disasters, as well as severe weather.
“There’s the voluntary service aspect of the hobby like when Hurricane Katrina struck, ham radio operators along the gulf coast were providing health and wellness reports of the area,” Lorentz explained.
They also help the National Weather Service by actively participating in Skywarn, and providing local weather spotting information.
As for the field day in Howard Lake, the event is designed to simulate that the community has just been hit by a disaster.
“We go in, set up our equipment, and run on generators we don’t use anything we didn’t bring. Local services are not likely to be available in the event of a disaster, so for 24 hours we’re on the radio, and trying to see how many people we can contact in the US and Canada,” Lorentz said.
The Wright County club tries to move the event to different areas of the county to “both give familiarity with the area, and show the public officials the service we can bring to bear in times of need,” Lorentz explained.
An informational booth will be set up at the event, and the public is encouraged to visit.
“We’ll start setting up at 8 a.m., but won’t officially open to the public until 1 p.m.,” Lorentz said. “Under supervision of one of the operators, anyone from the public can try it out and make a contact.”
Because the generators will be running the whole time, the group will try to minimize the noise. The generators are placed in noise-absorbing enclosures as part of the noise-reduction effort.
More information about the hobby can be found at www.arrl.org, or for questions about the event or hobby, contact Lorentz at (320) 274-2319.