Observatory will be host for Amateur Radio field day

Before Twitter, Facebook, or even the Internet, there was amateur radio.

“Ham radio can be looked upon as the original social medium,” Christopher Kersey, manager of the Highland Road Park Observatory, said.

The Observatory will once again be the site of the Baton Rouge Amateur Radio Club’s annual field day. Known officially as the American Radio Relay League Field Day, the event is held across the country to give amateur radio operators a chance to practice their skills in case of a natural disaster or other emergency, when cellphones, computers and other forms of communication may not be operational. The club will use emergency power to run its radios and will set up temporary antennas to transmit their signals.

The 24-hour emergency exercise (1 p.m. Saturday to 1 p.m. Sunday) also includes a little competition among ham operators here and elsewhere.

“They (the Baton Rouge club members) always have a very successful run during field day,” Kersey said. “Technically, it’s not a contest, but you do accumulate points and they place high year after year.”

To practice their emergency contact skills, the operators see how many contacts they can make across the country with as little power as possible, Kersey said.

And for part of that time, the general public can watch and learn for free.

“From 2 p.m.-10 p.m. (Saturday), public is allowed to come in,” Kersey said. “They can practice sending their name in Morse code, they can get on a special station called a GOTA, that’s just an acronym for get on the air, and speak to somebody in another state, perhaps outside the country, and learn what they need to do in order to get their own ham license.”

After 10 p.m., the room becomes a mock emergency communications area for the remainder of the 24 hours.

There will be 20-30 ham radio operators there during the course of the exercise, including Kersey, who’s been an operator for two years and has contacted 10-12 different states.

“It’s truly an art form, because you have to balance what times of the day and night your signal propagates best with what time of the day or night you have the opportunity to make the most contacts,” he said.